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Welsh Water request meeting with Chester Zoo after criticism over letting sewerage into River Dee

25 Aug 2022 5 minute read
The River Dee at Chester. Picture by Tony Hisgett (CC BY 2.0).

Dŵr Cymru have said that they have requested a meeting with Chester Zoo after the latter criticised them for letting sewerage into the River Dee.

The River Dee rises in Snowdonia before forming the boundary between England and Wales for parts of its journey. It then runs through Chester, just 2 miles away from Chester Zoo, and then out to the sea.

Chester Zoo took to social media to post a letter between its own CEO and Welsh Water calling the discharge of the water from its sewers “totally unacceptable”.

Water companies can legally dump raw sewage into rivers whenever there is heavy rain, under an amendment to legislation signed off by the UK Government earlier this year.

Combined sewer overflows (CSOs) reduce the risk of sewage backing up during heavy rainfall.

In 2021, according to a sewage map created by the Rivers Trust, Welsh Water’s sewer storm overflow at The Groves in Chester spilled 40 times for a total of 106 hours.

Another Welsh Water-operated sewer storm overflow located further down on Dee Lane spilled 78 times in 2021 for a total of 307 hours.

Jamie Christon Chief Executive Officer of Chester Zoo said: “As you will know the River Dee is of international importance for biodiversity and a significant natural asset both locally and nationally.

“Your discharge site is only a couple of miles upstream from the Dee Estuary Special Protection Area, Special Area of Conservation and Ramsar site.

“These designations represent the international importance of the Dee estuary and lower river catchment for rare and declining birds such as redshank, curlew. black-tailed godwit and pintail as well as for declining habitats including saltmarsh, Atlantic salt meadows and mudflats.

“As I am sure you can appreciate pollution of this environment puts these species and others at nsk and undermines the protection afforded.

“The River Dee itself is covered by a number of SSSI designations on the English and Welsh stretches and hosts important populations of wildlife including declining invertebrates like the Scarce Yellow Stonefly which was rediscovered in the river in 2017.

“At Chester Zoo we are actively involved in conservation work to rescue the Scarce Yellow Stonefly from the brink of extinction in the UK.

“Whilst we can provide help via our expertise in husbandry and conservation breeding at our Chester Zoo site, we are ultimately reliant on there being a clean and healthy environment along the river itself to allow a successful restoration of populations in the wild.

“Along with many other aquatic invertebrates that support the aquatic food chain stoneflies require clean pollution-free conditions to thrive.

“Sewage discharge at any point along the river presents a significant threat to these species and to those higher up the food chain such as fish and otters.

“Whilst we understand the pressure that recent dry conditions place on our wastewater system, we believe that allowing discharge of untreated sewage is unnecessary given the alternatives available via Sustainable Drainage Systems which can be designed to manage stormwater locally.

“We are currently supporting measures to establish more wetlands and drainage-friendly habitats along our Nature Recovery Corridor that follows the line of the Shropshire Union Canal from Ellesmere Port to Chester.

“This is a partnership project with CWaC, the Land Trust at the Countess of Chester Country Park and Canal and River Trust amongst others, funded by the Green Recovery Challenge Fund.

“We believe the current situation is totally unacceptable and would like to know what Dwr Cymru are doing to stop the discharge of sewage into the river at Chester both in the short term and as part of your long-term strategy for ensuring our waterways are clean and healthy.”

‘Working closely’

Dŵr Cymru said that they were “aware of the letter from Mr Christon at Chester Zoo and have already reached out to request a meeting”.

They also said that they were investing an additional £100million investment which will include further improvements to CSOs.

A Dŵr Cymru spokesperson said:  “Combined Storm Overflows (CSOs) play a vital role in preventing homes being flooded following rain and storms because most of our network is a combined system that collects surface as well as wastewater.

“The operation of our CSOs – which mainly release surface water that enters our sewers due to rainfall – is highly regulated by our regulators.

“We are committed to providing information on the operation of our CSOs and publish this information on our website.  We also notify interested parties, such as Surfers Against Sewage, of spills and this includes the CSO in the Chester area.  This is included on their Safer Seas and Rivers app.

“To further improve the information on the operation of our CSOs we proposed to provide upstream and downstream information and we have been working to complete this.  We have encountered some technical difficulties which has caused some delay, but we aim to have this completed as soon as possible.

“As a company we have also committed to launch an interactive web-based overflow map covering our operating area which will shortly be launched and by 2025 we will be able to report all CSO within an hour of them operating.

“We regularly carry out cleaning work on our sewers in the Groves area to ensure they are free of obstructions that can cause blockages which can reduce the capacity within our network.

“Chester also contains a large amount of impermeable area and with more intense rainfall we are seeing more and more surface water getting into the sewer network.

“We are working closely with the Local Authority in trying to manage that surface water and prevent it from entering the sewers in the first place.”

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Meirion Rees
Meirion Rees
1 year ago

Please, please, when we refer to our rivers can we use the Welsh name alongside the English one! Afon Dyfrdwy not just River Dee! It’s Cymraeg name came first.

One of the two witnesses
One of the two witnesses
1 year ago
Reply to  Meirion Rees

Because some c**k will claim it’s anti english

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 year ago

How would the executives of Dwr Cymru like it if we pumped raw sewage through your letter boxes?

Asking for the Scarce Yellow Stonefly…

1 year ago

The rules are raw sewage should only be released into our seas and rivers in ‘exceptional circumstances’.
Water companies are now interpreting exceptional circumstances to mean whenever it rains.

One of the two witnesses
One of the two witnesses
1 year ago
Reply to  Glen

To explain again for a new audience. Most of the Sewerage infrastructure in this country was built pre 1970. They were designed only to breach in a 1:100 year storm event. Because of climate change these now happen every other year. To upgrade all STWs and Sewers so that this never happens would cost about 5x as much as HS2. As customers, are people willing to pay that?
Then there’s why it happens.

Gareth Plas
Gareth Plas
1 year ago

Sewerage is the piping that carries sewage. Grammatical error in the title of the article.

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