Welsh Water has allegedly been involved in prolonged, illegal sewage discharges.
The analysis presented by the BBC suggests a facility in Cardigan, West Wales, untreated sewage was purportedly discharged into an ecologically sensitive area near a rare dolphin habitat for over a decade.
The investigation pointed to several wastewater treatment plants across Wales as culprits in these unlawful spills.
According to the BBC’s analysis, these sewage discharges occurred when the treatment plants should have been processing the waste as required by their permits.
The plant in Cardigan reportedly exceeded its permit’s sewage treatment threshold repeatedly.
Welsh Water has indicated that it is addressing the issues identified in the investigation and does not dispute the findings.
The company claims that decisions on improving these treatment plants are influenced by customer bills and the alleged absence of measurable environmental impact from the Cardigan estuary spills.
A Welsh Water spokesperson told Energy Live News: “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 5,000 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.
“Regarding Cardigan works specifically, we had already identified the issue there being linked to saltwater entering the works which impacts the treatment process. We reported this to NRW and agreed to undertake investment to improve the situation. Whilst this initial upgrade made some improvement, we are investing a further £20 million at the site in 2025 to ensure full compliance with the discharge permit. Our discovery of issues at Cardigan have been fully disclosed to NRW from the earliest opportunity in line with our usual approach to dealing with these issues.”
An Ofwat spokesperson told Energy Live News: “We are currently investigating all eleven water and wastewater companies, including Welsh Water, for potential failures at sewage treatment works that may have led to sewage discharges into the environment.
“Following these new allegations from the BBC we have contacted Welsh Water to provide more information which will feed into our existing investigation. We are also liaising with Natural Resources Wales on this issue.
“Water companies’ performance on the environment is simply not good enough. We have pushed companies to take urgent action to cut sewage discharges and have recently announced new measures to penalise companies that fail to fully monitor their storm overflows.
“As part of our work to drive better performance in the sector over the last few years, we have imposed penalties of over £250 million. We will keep pushing on all fronts to bring about the environmental improvements that the public rightly expects.”
Ann Weedy, Operations Manager at Natural Resources Wales said: “We are aware of significant compliance issues at the Cardigan wastewater treatment works, and we have used our regulatory powers to enforce the improvements required at the site over the years.
“The issue is now unresolvable without significant investment and upgrading of infrastructure by Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water.
“But this is the kind of investment that we, and the public expects. The enforcement action we are taking at this site requires Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water to commit to this programme of work during their next investment period and we will work with them to drive the improvements at this site that we all want to see.
“We are currently investigating the severity and frequencies of the permit breaches at the site and this investigation is ongoing. Any breaches will be dealt with in line with our Enforcement and Sanctions Policy.
“Both regulators, Ofwat and NRW, have been clear that the current use of storm overflow discharges is unacceptable and needs to change. We understand the concern of many across Wales that overflows are operating too frequently, and we are taking steps to ensure our regulation of overflows responds to the needs of the environment and public.”
Energy Live News has approached Defra for comment.