Untreated sewage dumped into Welsh waters for 613,618 hours in 2022 according to damning report
An equivalent of 25,567 continuous days of raw sewage was dumped in Welsh waters in 2022 alone according to a campaign group.
Surfers Against Sewage, a community of nationwide ocean activists, has released its latest Water Quality Report, looking at data from environmental regulators across Wales between October 2022 and September 2023.
The group’s report claims to have unearthed evidence of 24 potentially illegal discharges from Dwr Cymru’s emergency overflows (for use in catastrophic events) into one area alone, Poppit Sands, Pembrokeshire, over the last two years of available data.
Worst in the UK
Cardigan Bay in West Wales is home to some of the UK’s most diverse and exciting marine wildlife. One of only two resident populations of Bottlenose Dolphins in the UK inhabit the bay, making it a Special Area of Conservation (SAC).
The River Teifi, which flows into the bay at Poppit Sands, is also a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) meaning that it is protected by law due to its geological and ecological importance.
But over the last year, Dwr Cymru dumped raw sewage into the River Teifi an average of 5.2 times a day. Poppit Sands (a bathing water consistently rated as “excellent”) flew its Blue Flag this summer despite its known pollution. In the previous year, it was named the worst Blue Flag beach in the whole of the UK, due to 79 sewage dump incidents.
Sewage pollution in the River Teifi also directly affects one of Wales’ most popular surf spots at Gwbert. According to Surfers Against Sewage, some local surfers there have simply accepted they will get sick every time it’s firing.
The Gwbert Emergency Overflow, which impacts the bathing water of Poppit Sands, discharged 24 times in the last two years, where data is available (2021/2022). This indicates a clear breach in their permit.
Surfers Against Sewage’s report also highlights multiple claims of sewage-related sickness in the same period, and they heard from Robbie Bowman who ended up staying in hospital for a week after becoming exposed to sewage at Llansteffan Beach, thinking the salt water might help a small wound on his leg.
Soon after entering the water, he felt nauseous and feverish and was taken to University Hospital of Wales by ambulance where doctors feared he’d contracted sepsis – a life-threatening reaction to an infection.
Enough is enough
Giles Bristow, chief executive of Surfers Against Sewage, said: “Yet again, our annual water quality report reveals the complacency and disregard of governments, water companies and regulators towards the health of rivers and coastlines in the UK – and by extension people’s health.”
He added: “We are seeing failure at every level – from governments and regulators failing to enforce the law, to water company fat cats pocketing dirty money and refusing to clean up their act – with the general public ending up the biggest loser every time.”
The Welsh Government has the power to set the environmental regulations that our two water companies, Dwr Cymru and Hafren Dyfrdwy, should follow, and Natural Resource Wales (NRW) manages these water companies’ compliance with these environmental regulations.
There are a total of 1,995 sewage overflows in Wales, owned and managed by two separate water companies; Dwr Cymru (Welsh Water) and Hafren Dyfrdwy. The Welsh Government has set out the ‘Environmental Regulation of Overflows: Action Plan’ which is their plan for how to deal with the discharging of untreated sewage.
Mr Bristow stressed that the matter is now too urgent to be overlooked and needs urgent prioritising to protect our environment, ecosystems and the health of those using our waters.
He said: “How many times can we say ‘enough is enough’? Our leaders need to prioritise transparency, ensure laws and regulations are properly enforced, and prevent water companies profiting from pollution.”
Responding to the report, a spokesperson from Dwr Cymru said: “It is both misleading and disingenuous for Surfers Against Sewage to state that they have uncovered documents that identify performance issues with some of our assets as we collate this data and have made it openly available on our website for years and share with regulators and stakeholders. This also ignores the investment we have made to date to improve water quality in our seas and rivers, helping ensure that Wales has 25% of the UK’s Blue Flag beaches while only having 15% of the coastline, and 44% of rivers achieving good ecological status compared to 14% in England.”
They added: “Our investment plays a key role in ensuring that sites such as Poppit Sands has retained excellent bathing water but we know that there’s more to do and this is why we are assessing the environmental impact of our assets including storm overflows, undertaking more research than other water companies, so that we can, in conjunction with our environmental regulators, understand the range of factors impacting on bathing water quality. We currently invest over £1m a day in improving our services and plan to invest nearly £2 billion in the environment across 2025 to 2030 – 84% more than during 2020-25.”
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.