Welsh Water admits illegally spilling untreated sewage into the sea and rivers for years

Welsh Water admits to illegally spilling raw sewage out of dozens of sites, including into a location home to Europe's largest population of bottlenose dolphins, ITV News' Wales Reporter Rhys Williams reports

Welsh Water has admitted illegally spilling untreated sewage for years.

Data analysed by an environmental campaigner shows that sewage has spilled at dozens of sites even though the plants were not overflowing.

Natural Resources Wales said it was examining the severity and frequency of permit breaches by the water company. 

Welsh Water, which is a not-for-profit company, said between 40 and 50 of its wastewater treatment plants are currently operating in breach of their permits after being shown the data. 

One of the worst performing plants identified by campaigner Professor Peter Hammond is on the west coast of Wales, where on more than a thousand separate occasions sewage was spilled into Cardigan Bay.

People protested the sewage spillages this summer. Credit: ITV News

The bay is home to the largest population of dolphins in Europe and is a designated special area of conservation. Another of the sites identified is Trebanos, on the River Tawe in the Swansea Valley.

Here, 1,947 hours worth of untreated sewage was spilled up to August of this year, a “considerable total for just 8 months” according to Professor Hammond. 

During the summer months the regulator Natural Resources Wales (NRW) undertakes monitoring at beaches across Wales, it says the water quality at Poppit Sands, the beach nearest Cardigan Bay treatment works this year was excellent.

NRW says it has issued Welsh Water with a number of enforcement notices over the breaches identified by Professor Hammond, but had not fined the company.

The regulator’s Operations Manager, Huwel Manley, told ITV News this was because pursuing the company “through the courts” would see that money lost to Wales as it would go to central government.

"If you take them to court case, that money is lost to Wales rather than the company using that money to actually make the investments, so in the case of a large scale fine the cost is put back on every customer," he said

"But we do, and we can, take that enforcement route if they do not comply."

Welsh Water refused to be interviewed for this report, but in a statement a spokesman said: “We have a longstanding record of being open and transparent in relation to our environmental performance.

"We have applied this approach to compliance with our treatment works permits and have always raised any areas of non-compliance with our regulator, Natural Resources Wales, as soon as they are identified.

“We have extensive monitoring arrangements, amongst the most extensive in the sector, which we use to monitor our sites. 

"Each site presents its own and sometimes very complex challenges, with NRW reviewing the information we provide, agreeing appropriate timescales for resolving the issues, and taking enforcement action where appropriate. 

“We have over 5000 environmental permits as Wales has some of the largest numbers of treatment works, pumping stations and storm overflows in the UK.

"We are continually monitoring and when we find issues, we share this data with regulators, investigate and deliver improvements.

"We are investing around £1m a day in improving our services. “We always aim to resolve any issues as quickly as possible, to limit any impact for both the environment and our customers.”

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