Tackling the issue of river pollution has been made more complicated by devolution, a Welsh MP has said after meeting with Natural Resources Wales (NRW).
The UK Government recently announced a package of measures which will task the Environment Agency and water companies to cut the amount of raw sewage being discharged into rivers in England.
But responsibility for water quality in Wales rests with the Welsh Government and NRW.
Monmouth MP David Davies believes devolved matters overseen by the Senedd are not helping with finding a united solution.
“One thing we have learnt when it comes to dealing with the impact of pollution on the quality of our rivers is that devolution is making matters more complicated, especially when you have a river such as the Wye forming part of the border between England and Wales,” he said.
“River cleanliness in England is regulated by the Environment Agency (EA), which is funded by and answers to the UK Conservative Government. However, the EA has no power in Wales.
“Here, regulating river cleanliness is done by NRW. This body reports to and is held accountable by the Welsh Labour Government.”
NRW is strongly of the view that combined storm or sewer overflows (CSOs) play an essential role in stopping sewage from backing up into homes and businesses during periods of heavy rainfall or when it threatens to flood.
At peak times, the antiquated Victorian sewage system struggles to cope and was designed to release storm waters into rivers or the sea.
While there is some basic filtering, foul waste and sewage can often end up being discharged too.
“There has been a heightened awareness of this since lockdown which has, quite rightly, prompted calls for action on both the rivers Wye and Usk,” said Mr Davies.
“Another problem is the level of phosphates entering our river system, partly from sewage but more generally from agriculture and runoff from soil.”
Mr Davies, who first held discussions with NRW in August, has met again with senior officers and was joined by Monmouth MS Peter Fox.
“I also invited local environmental campaigners and concerned residents who had contacted me to listen in and ask questions. While a handful attended, some didn’t want to take part – which is a real pity,” said Mr Davies.
“NRW said phosphate levels have been going down since the 1980s and while there is still an overall net decrease, they have gone up again in the last 10 years.
“They fully recognise there is a problem. Their view was this new ecological response is partly due to sewage discharges but also agricultural practices and runoff from soil.
“The UK Government has brought in a series of measures in England via the Environment Bill which, in very simple terms, means there has to be monitoring upstream and downstream of sewage overflows and proper information on how much sewage is being discharged into rivers and when so water companies can be ordered to start making improvements.
“I have called on the Welsh Labour Government to replicate the measures being taken in England to reduce the amount of sewage being pumped into the water.”
Mr Davies added some people wanted to make “a rather gratuitous political point” by suggesting MPs had in fact voted in favour of discharging foul waste into people’s homes – describing it as a “complete untruth”.
“The fact is the UK Government is taking action to address what it acknowledges is a very important issue. At the very least, the Welsh Government must adopt what is being done in England,” he said.
“There does, however, seem to be a general consensus among the UK Government, Welsh Government and NRW that CSOs can’t simply be blocked off otherwise homes and businesses would be flooded.
“Instead, NRW is working closely with Welsh Water to identify CSOs which do not have a permit so they can be regularised and put in an improvement programme. This means they can then gather data about how much and when these CSOs spill.
“I appreciate this is not the immediate answer many were hoping for and I am still not entirely sure what is happening in Wales yet.”
Mr Davies said he would now be seeking a meeting with Welsh Water and hopes some of the campaigners who did not want to attend last time would accept the invitation to take part.