WORK to stop untreated sewer being discharged into the River Tawe will not be completed until 2030 according to a legal body representing anglers in the area.

Fish Legal – who represents Mond Angling Society and Pontardawe and Swansea Angling Society – said that National Resources Wales confirmed the work will ‘not likely be completed until 2030.’

Fish Legal members have reportedly been witnessing increasing spills into the river from the Trebanos Wastewater Treatment Works since 2014 and have published data showing that there was 3,676 hours of untreated sewage being discharged on 270 occasions in 2020, 3,321 hours on 182 occasions in 2021 and the most recent discharge recorded by the angling clubs was on May 29 this year.

Fish Legal has been investigating if the discharges are compliant with the water company’s environmental permits which places limits on when spills can occur.

Fish Legal said that in May 2020, the site was named as ‘number one’ in Welsh Water’s list of the 50 worst problem sites in Wales and it was committed to dealing with the worst 30 sites by 2025, but the following year changed the position on Trebanos.

They said that the change in position was supported by Natural Resources Wales, claiming they said they were unable to find ‘sufficient environmental impact’ to warrant action before the next capital improvement period between 2025-2030.

A spokesman for Pontardawe and Swansea Angling Society said: “We feel let down by this about turn by Dwr Cymru Welsh Water (DCWW) as it is not the first time for promises regarding the treatment plant storm outfall to be made and reneged on.

“In 1997 during the lead up to the construction of outfall, the society was told by DCWW there was only a low probability of the proposed outfall spilling raw sewage at low flows and if a situation did arise that resulted in a health risk to its members, they would be duty bound to resolve the matter and take appropriate action.

“Since March 2014, we have made numerous complaints about the health risk to members and the wider public from spills taking place for days after heavy rainfall events have passed and the river has fallen back to normal levels.

“It is getting worse, anglers are unable to fish in a fishery we own because the storm outfall discharges screened but otherwise raw sewage in our fishery for days following most rainfall incidents.

“The DCWW backtrack, along with the Natural Resources Wales stance that we need to “just live with” it until possibly 2030 is a disgrace. As a result, we have serious concerns about future intentions of DCWW and NRW”

Fish Legal also claims an internal email at Natural Resources Wales – seen via a freedom of information request - said they considered serving a statutory notice on Welsh Water to ‘demonstrate it was not being passive but that the clubs would have to just live with the adjusted timescales for planned improvements.’

Geoff Hardy, a Fish Legal solicitor, said: “I have rarely encountered such blatant backtracking on commitments. The current position is that even if Welsh Water have approval to start work on day one of the next investment cycle, it will take at least 24 to 26 months to complete and could take up to 2030.

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“This means that our members could have had to endure pollution from this broken system for 16 years. This has to be unacceptable by anyone’s standards.

“Why is one of the worst treatment works in Wales being allowed to continue spilling untreated sewage into the River Tawe because the environmental impact is not considered bad enough to deal with it sooner? Just how bad does it have to get?”

There are calls for an investigation into the regulation of combined sewer overflows in Wales after the Office for Environment Protection announced on June 28 that it will be investigating the roles of Ofwat, the Environment Agency and the Defra Secretary of State on the same issue in England.

Mold Angling Club said: “We need to follow England’s lead and ask the Interim Environmental Protector Assessor for Wales to review the regulation of combined sewer outflows as clearly NRW are not up to the task.”

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A Welsh Water spokesperson said: “Our treatments works at Trebanos serves a large catchment area and sees a significant amount of infiltration from surface water and other sources which reach it during periods of heavy rain. We are underway with an investment programme of works to find and reduce sources of infiltration into the sewer network to try and reduce the frequency and duration of discharges from the storm overflow.

“We have also commissioned work to design a new treatment works to serve this catchment and deal with increased flows. This is only being explored at the moment as we need to determine if this is the most appropriate and cost-effective solution for customers. It would also require approval from regulators but we will keep local stakeholders informed of developments as we work with other agencies to help improve the local river water quality.” 

Natural Resources Wales was approached but no comment was provided.