Flowing downstream: a timeline of Dŵr Cymru’s performance

Published 19/04/2024   |   Last Updated 22/04/2024   |   Reading Time minutes

Water companies hold a critical position in safeguarding both environmental and public health. Concern over the pollution of our waterways has been building, and as such, scrutiny of water company practices has become more stringent.

Despite this, and ongoing investment to improve services, Dŵr Cymru’s environmental performance continues to decline. On Wednesday 24 April, the Senedd will debate the Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure (CCEI) Committee’s report on the performance of Dŵr Cymru. In it, Committee Chair Llyr Gruffydd MS, says the company “needs to up its game”.

The timeline below highlights key developments in recent years with regard to Dŵr Cymru’s environmental performance, and how regulators and parliaments have responded.

14 March 2024

In an investigation by Ofwat into Issues identified and self-reported by Dŵr Cymru on its performance on leakage and per capita consumption (PCC) data, Dŵr Cymru was found to have misled customers and regulators and ordered to pay a redress package of £40m to customers.

29 February 2024

Dŵr Cymru’s 2023 Event Duration Monitor (EDM) data sent to Natural Resources Wales (NRW). These record the number of times and duration storm overflows have operated.

The data is reported to show 105,943 spills, 93% of which were ranked "significant", and that storm overflows were operating for over 916,000 hours.

Dŵr Cymru said the higher number of spills was a result of wet weather in 2023, as storm overflows are designed to operate when too much rainwater enters the system.

8 February 2024

The CCEI Committee published its Report on performance of Dŵr Cymru. It called for Dŵr Cymru to:

  • explain how it’s planning for future climate pressures to mitigate serious pollution incidents;
  • commit to setting a more stretching target for reducing pollution incidents by 2030; and
  • commit to an ambition of zero pollution incidents in the shortest time possible.

The Welsh Government, Ofwat, NRW and Dŵr Cymru have responded.

22 November 2023

The UK Parliament’s Welsh Affair’s Committee took further evidence in its inquiry on water quality in Wales.

Campaigners (including Prof. Peter Hammond), NRW, Ofwat and Dŵr Cymru discussed reports of illegal untreated wastewater spillages other issues.

9 November 2023

The CCEI Committee took evidence from Dŵr Cymru, NRW and Ofwat on the continued rise in sewer overflows operating outside of their permit conditions.

Dŵr Cymru was scrutinised over its recent environmental performance, and reported analysis showing numerous permit breaches across Wales. NRW was scrutinised over its response to those incidences.

24 October 2023

The Wales Better River Water Quality action plans were updated to show progress against the actions.

23 October 2023

Ofwat’s Water Company Performance Report ranked Dŵr Cymru as “lagging”. Dŵr Cymru will have to return money to customers through cutting bills as a result.

19 October 2023

It was reported that Dŵr Cymru had “admitted illegally spilling untreated sewage at dozens of treatment plants for years”.

The analysis of Dŵr Cymru data was undertaken by Professor Peter Hammond from campaign group Windrush Against Sewage Pollution (WASP). It showed “2,274 days with permit breaches involving discharges of untreated sewage” from 2018 to 2023.

In response, Dŵr Cymru confirmed plans to accelerate investment to improve water quality, including £20m investment in new wastewater treatment works at Cardigan, which had been identified as one of the worst performing sites.

2 October 2023

Dŵr Cymru submitted its proposed Business Plan for 2025-30 to Ofwat.

If approved, Dŵr Cymru will invest nearly £1.9 billion in the environment between 2025 and 2030 – 84% more than across 2020-25. However this amount has since increased to include additional environmental expenditure, alongside a proposed increase in the average annual customer bill.

25 July 2023

CCEI wrote to Dŵr Cymru expressing concern at its decline in environmental performance.

Dŵr Cymru responded with explanations for the decline . It said that the “drought and high temperatures experienced in 2022 should be taken into account when assessing our pollution performance”.

12 July 2023

NRW downgraded Dŵr Cymru to a 2-star (requires improvement) rating (maximum possible is 4-star) following a further decline in environmental performance.

NRW reported that pollution incidents rose by 7% in 2022, and that Dŵr Cymru caused 89 sewage pollution incidents (84 of these were categorised as having a low environmental impact, five were classed as having a high or significant impact).

Dŵr Cymru’s self-reporting of pollution incident performance also saw a deterioration of 7% compared to 2021, with only 69% of pollutions incidents self-reported in 2022.

15 March 2023

The UK Parliament’s Welsh Affairs Committee held two evidence sessions looking at water quality in Wales with campaigners, water companies and Ofwat.

The Chair of the Committee, Rt Hon Stephen Crabb MP, called for greater urgency to prevent further damaging sewage discharges.

5 July 2022

The Welsh Government set up the Wales Better River Quality Taskforce to “to evaluate the current approach to the management and regulation of overflows in Wales and to set out detailed plans to drive rapid change and improvement”.

Five action plans were published for the areas identified as requiring additional action.

Early 2022

In response to public outcry over sewage discharges, the CCEI Committee undertook an initial investigation into sewer overflows and their impact on water quality.

It made number of recommendations to Dŵr Cymru, focused on enhanced monitoring and reporting of sewage spills and their impact.

In response, Dŵr Cymru recognised that “more needs to and can be done to reduce the amount of discharges from CSOs [Combined Sewer/storm Overflows]”.

Further details can be found in this Senedd Research article.

Article by Lorna Scurlock, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament