Welsh Water ‘very sorry’ for sewage spills and announces £2.24 billion environmental investment
Welsh Water has issued an apology for sewage spills which have impacted rivers and coastal waters in Wales and pledged a huge investment plan to put things right.
Earlier this year water industry regulator Ofwat named Welsh Water as one of the six worst-performing water firms in England and Wales.
The watchdog criticised the industry for “falling short” in multiple areas, with particular attention on Welsh Water’s consistent sewage spills.
Data showed that Welsh Water had discharged sewage into rivers, lakes, and the sea around Wales for almost 600,000 hours throughout last year.
This figure accounted for over 25% of all hours of discharges into waterways across England and Wales.
Furthermore, the company registered more than 83,000 sewage spills in 2022, with a staggering 77,000 categorised as “significant”.
Last summer the boss of Chester Zoo wrote to Welsh Water over the “unacceptable discharge” of sewage into the River Dee which he said was causing a “significant threat” to wildlife including a critically endangered insect species.
Pete Perry, Welsh Water’s Chief Executive, said: “We are always very sorry for any environmental harm that we cause linked to delivering our wastewater services.”
“We absolutely understand and accept public concern about any sewage pollution impacting our rivers and coastal waters in Wales, and so improving river water quality is our absolute priority.”
Following today’s apology, Welsh Water has unveiled an investment strategy to improve the health of rivers across Wales, pledging to commit £2.24 billion to the cause.
The water company has published a ‘Manifesto for Rivers in Wales’, detailing its investment plans and demonstrating a commitment to environmental sustainability.
The company will invest £840m by 2025 (AMP7) and a further £1.4bn between 2025 and 2030 (AMP8) to protect the environment.
The manifesto responds to last year’s Phosphate Summit’s call by the First Minister for every sector to acknowledge their contribution to Welsh rivers’ pressures.
The investment will specifically target phosphorous reduction in five key Special Area of Conservation (SAC) rivers: the Wye, Usk, Teifi, Cleddau, and Dee, which are currently failing environmental standards.
The outlined actions include investing £133m to eradicate 90% of harm caused by phosphorous from wastewater treatment works outflows in SAC catchments by 2030 and 100% by 2032.
In addition, the company aims to neutralise the environmental impact of Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) by 2040, an effort estimated to cost £4bn.
In a bid to promote transparency and collaboration, Welsh Water will provide open access to monitoring data, working with partner organizations in Wales to create an open-source River Water Data Hub.
The company also commits to embracing a partnership approach with relevant stakeholders, including government-led task forces, independent advisory panels, and other environmental bodies.
Moreover, Welsh Water aims to ensure this vital investment remains affordable for customers.
The company confirmed that both Peter Perry and Mike Davis, the Chief Finance Officer, will not accept any bonus for the year 2022/23.
Welsh Water’s announcement comes on the same day England’s water companies also apologised over their sewage spills and said they were ready to invest an additional £10 billion – but it could mean higher bills, warns GMB union.
Gary Carter, GMB National Officer, said:
“Householders can’t be expected to pay for years of water company cock ups.
“England’s waterways are in crisis and the water companies’ solution is the public should pay. That’s outrageous.
“Shareholders have been paid huge dividends and they should be putting the money in, not the taxpayer.
“Water company chief executives are paid millions yet have the audacity to ask householders to pay more.
“The government and regulator need to sort this mess out.”
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