A British water company has been releasing sewage near one of Europe’s largest dolphin habitats for at least a decade. The protected species in the River Teifi and Cardigan Bay have been exposed to untreated sewage discharges for years.
The Welsh water plant has admitted to illegally spilling untreated waste at dozens of sites, after the BBC presented it with analysis of its own data.
One of the leakiest plants is located in the town of Cardigan in west Wales. Professor Peter Hammond, a mathematician who shared his findings with the broadcaster, described it as the worst sewage works I’ve come across in terms of illegal discharges.
Unfortunately for wildlife, the outflow point from this treatment plant spills into the Teifi estuary. Home to Atlantic salmon, lamprey and otters, the River Teifi is meant to be protected as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC).
The dirty and poisonous sewage waste water flows into Cardigan Bay, an important habitat for around 300 bottle-nose dolphins.
A combined sewerage system covers most of Great Britain, meaning that rainwater and wastewater travel through the same pipes before being treated at a sewage treatment works.
During extreme weather, release of this mixed wastewater into rivers and seas is allowed via storm overflow pipes, to prevent the system from being overwhelmed.
But recent investigations have revealed how often water companies are using the overflows to discharge sewage in mild conditions, before their permitted overflow level is reached. Releasing wastewater in these circumstances is illegal.
Raw discharges were sent into English rivers 825 times a day last year, the latest data from the nation’s Environment Agency show. Cardigan plant spilled sewage for over 1,000 days in 5 years.
A former University College London professor, Hammond is part of the campaign group Windrush Against Sewage Pollution (WASP), one of many local groups formed in outrage at this situation.
Analysing data provided by Welsh Water, he discovered that Cardigan almost never treated the amount of sewage it was supposed to, the BBC reports.
According to its permit, it has to treat 88 liters a second before spilling. However, the plant had illegally spilled untreated sewage for a cumulative total of 1,146 days from the start of 2018 to the end of May 2023.
Welsh Water does not dispute this analysis and says it is working to fix the problem.
The company admitted that it has up to 50 wastewater treatment plants currently operating in breach of their permits, and prioritize improving plants that will help lighten customer bills.
It added that there is no measurable environmental impact from the Cardigan estuary spills – something environmental groups dispute.
Critics have pointed to the privatization of England and Wales’s water network in 1989, which has led to years of mismanagement and under-investment.
Others say abnormally dry ground was to blame as it could not absorb excess water, meaning discharges into seas and rivers were needed to prevent flooding.
Associations fighting river pollution have urged water companies to publish information on wastewater dumps in a bid to improve transparency. Fundamentally this site [Cardigan] has been discharging raw sewage for possibly 10 years and no action has been taken
The water company’s regulator, Natural Resources Wales, told the BBC that it has been aware of the issues at Cardigan for eight years and has issued enforcement notices but no fines.
The pollution is now unsolvable without significant investment and upgrading of infrastructure by Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water, the regulator adds in an online statement. But this is the kind of investment that we, and the public expects.
Euronews.com / ABC Flash Point News 2023.