Over 105,000 incidents of untreated sewage being dumped into Welsh rivers

Published 14/03/2022   |   Last Updated 15/03/2022   |   Reading Time minutes

A report by the Senedd’s Climate Change Committee is calling on the Welsh Government to take urgent action to tackle sewage discharges made by water companies into Welsh rivers.

The report puts forward a series of recommendations to protect Welsh waterways, calling on the Minister for Climate Change, Julie James MS, to immediately begin working with water companies to reduce the amount of raw sewage being dumped into rivers. 

It has been established practice that, when wastewater treatment works are overwhelmed with water following extreme rainfall, they are allowed to release untreated sewage via ‘storm overflows’ into rivers to manage the situation.

However, the Committee notes with concern how frequent these sewage spills are, and how much they have increased in recent years.

In 2016, there were just under 15,000 such incidents recorded by 545 monitors in Wales. By 2020, despite the number of monitors having only increased to 2,000; there were over 105,000 incidents of untreated sewage being dumped into Welsh watercourses. 

The report also expresses an additional concern; these numbers do not include unpermitted storm overflows or overflows that are not monitored by water companies, meaning that the real number of instances of sewage dumping is much higher. 

One of the things that the Committee is calling for, is “enhanced monitoring arrangements” to correctly measure the effect discharges have on the natural environment.

The Committee has given the Minister for Climate Change, Julie James MS, 6 months to work with water companies to address the concerns raised in this report before she will be asked to appear before the Committee.

The report recommends that the Minister’s plan to deal with the issue, the ‘Roadmap for Storm Overflows’, should include targets and timescales for the reduction of sewage discharges.

The Committee is calling on the two water companies operating in Wales, Dŵr Cymru and Hafren Dyfrdwy to report on discharges from storm overflows “within an hour of the discharge beginning”, which is already a requirement placed on water companies in England. The Committee’s report goes on to say that “if they cannot match this standard, both companies should explain why.”

Llyr Gruffydd MS, Chair of the Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure Committee, said; “Storm overflows should operate infrequently and in exceptional weather conditions - but that is not what’s happening. Instead, we’re seeing the numbers of incidents rising sharply with repeated reports of sewage in our rivers.

“It cannot be right that a parent is scared to let their child swim in a river in Wales for fear of pollution and human waste. The public is rightly outraged by what it is witnessing - it is simply unacceptable.

“The Welsh Government must listen to the evidence we’ve collected and take immediate action to ensure that the number and volume of these discharges are reduced.”

You can find the full report here.