Water Industry News

Welsh Water Pollution On The Rise Despite Significant Investment

As with many of the water suppliers in the UK at the moment, Welsh Water’s pollution record has come under fire this month (June), with reports coming in that the company was responsible for 107 incidents in 2023, up from the 89 seen the previous year… despite the fact that £483 million was invested in the last 12 months to improve services and protect the environment.


According to the BBC, the supplier has drawn criticism over the last few months for its performance relating to raw sewage spills and leakage rates, with watchdog Natural Resources Wales (NRW) reducing its rating in June 2023 and saying that it requires improvement.


Some 201 sewer flooding incidents were seen over the course of the year, up from the 169 seen in 2022, while leaks climbed to 251.7 million litres a day, up from the 242.1 million.


Supplier chairman Alastair Lyons admitted that the firm still has more to do but added that good progress is being made, saying: “Our plans have to find the right balance of being financeable, deliverable and affordable for our customers without storing up problems for future generations.”


£483 million in asset improvements


Over the last 12 months, Welsh Water invested £483 million to improve customer services and protect the environment, including seven investment schemes to improve the water quality of the River Wye.


Furthermore, it has agreed upon 145 new environmental permits with NRW to reduce phosphorous levels at its treatment works and other sites to improve water quality even more.


The company also published its Manifesto for Rivers in Wales in 2023, detailing how it plans to invest to improve river water quality, with £840 million ringfenced to spend in the five years up to 2025 and then an additional £2 billion set aside to take the firm up to 2030.


Looking ahead to next year, the supplier intends to start work on its new £20 million wastewater treatment works in Cardigan, with the aim being to increase capacity at the site and reduce the number of discharges that take place to help support the River Teifi. Additionally, more than £5 million will be spent on three treatment works by the end of march 2025.


Other water quality work includes a £13 million scheme at New Inn near Pontypool, with a 1.8-hectare wetland created for the local community that will act as a green filtering system for discharged stormwater from the nearby storm overflow during periods of intense rainfall. The stormwater will eventually pass through the wetland before being released into the Afon Lwyd.


Peter Perry, Welsh Water chief executive, said: “We’re delighted to be creating this innovative wetland that will mitigate the effects of wastewater from a storm overflow by naturally removing the phosphorus.


“In line with Welsh Government policy, we are prioritising investment in the storm overflows that cause environmental harm rather than those which spill the most.


“Our investment in our wastewater system – which will total £1.4 billion in the decade to 2025 – has delivered real improvements and helped ensure Wales has over a quarter of the UK’s Blue Flag beaches while only having 15 per cent of the coastline and that 44 per cent of our rivers and waterbodies meet good ecological status.”


What is NRW doing?


While other sources of pollution such as agricultural runoff and industrial chemicals do affect waterways, sewage discharge is one of the biggest culprits in this regard – and, perhaps, one of the quickest and easiest to resolve.


NRW issues permits and licences to water suppliers to allow sewers to overflow during periods of heavy rainfall, as this helps to prevent pipes from being overwhelmed, which can see sewage back up into homes and other properties.


However, suppliers must work within the parameters of these permits, with strong action taken against them if they’re non-compliant. New storm overflows are also only now permitted as a last resort, with the majority of new permits issued in the last five years implemented to replace unsatisfactory or sub-standard assets.


The organisation is also a member of the Wales Better River Quality Taskforce, which also includes representatives from Ofwat, the Consumer Council for Water, Afonydd Cymru, Hafren Dyfrdwy, Dwr Cymru and Welsh government.


And late last month (May), NRW issued a call for members of the public who are interested in the health of the nation’s water environment to take part in a series of consultations about future plans to protect and improve water.


The first consultation opened on May 29th and will run until December 20th, focusing on the planning process and identifying organisations, groups and individuals keen to participate in developing the next river basin management plan.


These are updated every six years, setting out how NRW will manage, protect and improve freshwater and coastal waterways across Wales.


Sustainable water manager for NRW Natalie Hall said: ““Developing the next set of River Basin Management Plans provides us with an opportunity to set new ambitions for managing our waters in Wales.


“Through the process we will expand and update our understanding about the current state of our water environment, the pressures acting upon it and what measures are required to improve and protect it.


“We want to embrace the increased interest in water and hope to work with a wide range of groups, communities and organisations to learn from everyone’s experiences and knowledge about our waters in Wales.”


What can businesses do?


Businesses, too, can do their part in reducing water pollution and there is specific guidance in place for preventing hazardous substances from entering the natural environment, the relevancy of which will depend on the industry you’re in.


If you’d like to find out more about how your company could improve its water management and reduce the pressure being put on freshwater resources, get in touch with the SwitchWaterSupplier.com team today.