Dwr Cymru, Welsh Water, has hit back at recent media coverage which revealed that the company has illegally spilled untreated raw sewage into the River Teifi from its Cardigan plant for more than three years.

The data was compiled by mathematician and former UCL professor Peter Hammond and confirmed that the Teifi had suffered a higher level of pollution than any other river in Wales.

Dr Hammond said that the Cardigan sewage works was the worst he had come across in terms of illegal discharges.

Now Steve Wilson, Welsh Water’s managing director of wastewater services has stepped in to defend the company.

“As a company that provides an essential service and is part of the daily life of customers here in Wales, we understand that we have a significant responsibility for what we do - and that responsibility goes hand in hand with accountability,” he said.

“We will always do what we can to limit the impact of our assets (including 36,000km of sewers and thousands of pumps and wastewater treatment works) on the environment. If things do go wrong as sometimes can happen, we’ll do all we can to put it right."

He added that it was right that there should be strong scrutiny and accountability given that Welsh Water provides an essential service to protect public health.

However, he argued that some of the current debate in the media and the wider political discourse has ‘been inaccurate and has failed to reflect the regulatory and policy framework in which the water sector operates’.

Mr Wilson said that Welsh Water had not been forced to reveal data to the media, as implied by some coverage, but had regularly reported the issued to Natural Resources Wales (NRW), its regulator, in line with regulatory requirements. It had also kept NRW informed of all the work that undertaken to resolve the issues.

“This is how the regulatory system works – where problems are identified, solutions are sought and timescales are agreed with the regulator to implement them,” he said.

“This is the process that we have followed and we have always been open and transparent with our performance data.”

Mr Wilson also disputed suggestions that nothing had been done to try and resolve the issue at Cardigan, which has seen sea water entering the sewerage network and preventing the system from fully treating sewage, in the past decade.

“In order to identify the root cause of the issues we’ve undertaken numerous investigations, made improvements to the treatment work and surrounding network, and trialled new technologies to identify the best way of fixing the issues at the site,” he said. “We have kept NRW informed throughout, and followed the regulatory process in an open and transparent way.”

Despite these efforts and significant investment, he conceded that Welsh Water had not been able to resolve the issue at the works.

This led to the company announcing a £20 million investment scheme to redevelop Cardigan’s sewage treatment plant.

Welsh Water is currently in the detailed design phase for the new works, for which building work is due to start in 2025.

“If we can accelerate the programme, we will,” he said.

Mr Wilson said that earlier this month Welsh Water had submitted its business plan for 2025-30 to Ofwat.

“If approved, the plan will result in the company’s biggest ever investment programme, worth £3.5 billion investment over the five years, which will be equivalent to a 68 per cent increase on the investment between 2020 and 2025,” he said.

“A key focus of the plan is to adopt a collaborative approach to reducing our impact on the environment, in particular playing our part in helping improve river water quality. This means we will do what we can to reduce the impact of our assets on river water quality.”

He added that the company was committing to invest nearly £1.9 billion in the environment between 2025 and 2030 – 84 per cent more than across 2020-25.

This will include substantially reducing phosphorous releases from wastewater treatment to rivers in Special Areas of Conservation. It also plans to start a multi-investment period programme to reduce the impact of storm overflows on rivers.

“We already monitor over 99 per cent of our storm overflows now and we openly share data on our website on how these assets operate,” he said.

“We plan to go further next year and will provide real time information (within one hour) on our website showing storm overflows that are operating for bathing waters and high amenity sites initially.

“We do not shy away from the challenges we face and continue to strive to fulfil our company purpose to provide high quality and better value drinking water and environmental services, so as to enhance the well-being of our customers and the communities we serve, both now and for generations to come.”