Welsh Water: firm breached sewage spills and water quality 223 times since 2018 - but only handed a fine twice
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Welsh Water has recorded 223 breaches of sewage discharge and water quality “offences” but only two resulted in fines, according to new figures. The data from Freedom of Information requests by Violation Tracker and shared exclusively with WalesOnline showed that the water firm had more than 200 environmental breaches since 2018 but in the vast majority of cases only a warning was issued.
The two times when the water company was fined came in 2019 and 2021. In 2019 Welsh Water was ordered to pay £49,150 at Swansea Magistrates’ Court after admitting to a chemical discharge which killed more than 500 fish near its Felindre waterworks. In 2021 it had to pay £205,871 at Llandudno Magistrates’ Court after pleading guilty to causing a pollution incident along the River Clywedog in north Wales.
The other infringements by Welsh Water include a Sites of Special Scientific Interest offence, a waste offence under the Environmental Protection Act, and a breach of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act. The regulator told WalesOnline that the water firm’s breaches included illegal sewage overflows as well as water supply issues and “incidents at permitted and un-permitted (for example burst sewer) sites”.
Welsh Water told WalesOnline that it has a “longstanding record of being open and transparent", adding that it “always” complies with “any enforcement actions”. When responding to criticism over the number of prosecutions Natural Resources Wales (NRW) has handed to the water company, Gavin Bown, Head of Mid Wales Operations at NRW, said: "While we do prosecute in appropriate cases, the fines handed down by the courts go back to the UK Treasury and not to remediate the environmental problem."
It comes after an investigation by the BBC found that the company had been illegally discharging untreated wastewater at dozens of sewage plants, often for years at a time. The company admitted that it has 40 to 50 wastewater treatment plants that are currently operating illegally.
The data, from 11 Welsh sewage plants, found that 10 released untreated waste before their stipulated overflow level had been reached, and the worst-performing plant was Cardigan which spilled for more than 200 days a year from 2019 to 2022. Cardigan is home to Europe’s largest population of bottlenose dolphins. NRW said on Thursday 19 October that it would investigate the severity and frequency of the company’s breaches. Welsh Water told the BBC it was already aware of “significant issues” that impacted its ability to treat sewage, and is planning to build a new £20 million water treatment works for Cardigan.