Welsh Water boss claims ‘good progress’ despite 20% surge in pollution incidents

Wales’ largest water company saw a rise in sewage pollution, flooded sewers and leakage last year, despite spending hundreds of millions of pounds on improving its infrastructure.

Welsh Water, which serves three million people in Wales, Herefordshire and parts of Deeside, recorded 107 pollution incidents in the last financial year, up on 89 the year before, a 20% rise.

Like many water firms, Welsh Water has been mired in controversy in recent months, amid an industry-wide scandal over dire performance on leaks, raw sewage spills and poor customer service.

The company was already downgraded for the second year running in 2023 as a result of the 89 sewage pollution incidents, five of which were classed as “having a high or significant impact”.

Natural Resources Wales reduced the company’s rating of three stars to two stars in June 2023, meaning it “requires improvement”.

Welsh Water did not say how many of the 107 pollution incidents recorded this year were serious.

Alastair Lyons, chairman of Welsh Water, said: “Our plans have to find the right balance of being financeable, deliverable and affordable for our customers without storing up problems for future generations.

“Whilst there’s still much more to do, we are making good progress against the commitments we’ve made.”

The company said it invested £483 million last year to “improve services to its customers and communities and to protect the environment”, up on £400 million the year before.

Despite this, it also reported 201 sewer flooding incidents, up on 169 the year before, while leakage rose to 251.7 megalitres per day, up from 242.1 megalitres per day.

Welsh Water was ordered to pay nearly £40 million to customers in May after the industry watchdog found the firm misled them over its record of tackling leaks and saving water.

Ofwat said an investigation that started in May last year found evidence of a “significant failure of governance and management oversight” at Welsh Water led the firm to misreport leaks and performance over a period of five years.

Welsh Water said this morning that it has agreed 145 new environmental permits with NRW to remove more phosphorus from its treated water before it is put back into rivers.

It comes after a hotly anticipated review of how expensive water bills could be over the coming years was pushed back because of the General Election.

Regulator Ofwat pushed back the date for its consultation on draft pricing decisions for the sector until July 11. The announcement had originally been pencilled in for June 12.

The consultation will see Ofwat give its initial verdict on water companies’ business plans until the end of the decade, which it does every five years.

Peter Perry, Welsh Water chief executive, added: “We are prioritising investment in the storm overflows that cause environmental harm rather than those which spill the most.”