- Posted by: Mike Hedges MS
- Categories: Assembly Speeches, Latest News
MIKE HEDGES EXPRESSES CONCERNS REGARDING RIVER POLLUTION AND CALLS FOR PUBLIC OWNERSHIP OF WATER
Speaking from the Senedd after the debate, local Swansea East Senedd Member, Mike Hedges said…..’ I have raised River pollution in the Senedd on many occasions; local walkers and fisherman tell me on a regular basis of pollution and sewage in the River Tawe. These of course are what people can see and report. We know that there are many pollutants which get in to Rivers which are invisible and which do tremendous damage to our environment.
As I noted in my speech, despite nice words and plans for action in the future, very little has changed in the last 5-10 years. If anything the situation is worse. I strongly believe that the time has come to return the control of water to public ownership so there can be proper control and oversight of these matters.
Lets get on and clean up our Rivers once and for all!
Having been one of a very small group of Senedd Members, supported by anglers and environmentalists, concerned about river pollution, it is nice to have a debate on the subject today.347
Water is uniquely vulnerable to pollution. Known as the universal solvent, water can dissolve more substances than any other liquid. It is why water is so easily polluted: sewage, toxic substances from farms, towns and factories readily dissolve in the water, causing water pollution. Around the world, agriculture is the leading cause of water degradation. Data from the USA shows agricultural pollution is the top source of contamination in rivers and streams, the second biggest in wetlands, and the third main source in lakes. It is also a major contributor of contamination to estuaries and groundwater. Every time it rains, fertilisers, pesticides, animal waste from farms and livestock operation wash nutrients and pathogens, such as bacteria and viruses, into our waterways.348
Nutrient pollution caused by excess nitrogen and phosphorus in water is the No. 1 threat to water quality worldwide and can cause algal bloom, a toxic super blue-green algae harmful to people and wildlife, which eventually kills everything in the river, and we’ve all seen that.353
In the nineteenth century, waste was put into rivers, killing all things in the water. In the second half of the twentieth century, rivers started to be cleaned, but we are now returning to polluting rivers again. I have regularly raised concerns over raw sewage and other pollutants in Swansea’s River Tawe and asked what Welsh Government is doing to tackle pollution problems affecting Wales’s waterways, with untreated sewage discharging into rivers such as the Tawe by the Trebanos treatment works, phosphorus pollution leading to eutrophication in the River Wye, and microplastics having ended up in the water everywhere. We then drink this water after water treatment has taken place. River pollution is a problem across Wales, but I’m just talking about the River Tawe, which is within 50 yards of where I live. We have raw sewage discharge, agricultural pollution and microplastics. Storm water mixes with sewage at the Trebanos treatment works; it is then discharged into the river and then into the sea.354
Ofwat and Natural Resources Wales have been clear that the current use of storm overflow discharges is unacceptable and needs to change. People are concerned that overflows are operating too frequently. NRW say that they are taking steps to ensure that the regulation of overflows responds to the needs of the environment and the public. I would say they should have done that a long time ago. They say they continue to challenge water companies to improve their performance across all assets, to ensure overflows are properly controlled. They have said they will issue new permits that will require water companies to submit annual flow compliance data, to significantly improve flow compliance regulations. NRW also say they are overseeing a programme of investment of £20 million by the water companies to further reduce the impact of storm overflows, prioritising high spillers. I’m afraid I see no evidence of anything actually of any good actually happening. It’s the same now as it was five years and 10 years ago.355
Things that I believe that could help stop storm overflows getting into the sewerage system include the planting of trees and bushes, making it a planning condition on new developments that impervious coverings are not allowed, and to have greater control over the use of fertilisers. Both phosphorus and nitrates play a role in river eutrophication, although the main limiting nutrient in freshwater river systems is usually phosphorus.356
The wildlife in the River Wye is in free fall. The salmon population in the River Wye is in a critical state, with angling catches down 94 per cent from their peak in 1967. Water crowfoot, which is very important for river life, is estimated to have reduced by 90 per cent. River invertebrates are now absent in many places. The main pollutant causing concern is phosphates, with around 73 per cent from nutrients leeching from livestock manure into the river, and around 22 per cent from sewage treatment works. There is a need to clean up our rivers, but we need to find the polluters. The only way you’re going to stop people polluting is when it starts hitting them in the pocket. This must be done for Welsh Water, but also for farmers and any other people polluting our rivers.357
Finally, I agree with Adam Price—and I wish I’d spoken before him—we need public ownership of water. It used to be owned by the public; in fact, it used to be run by local authorities incredibly well. We need to bring it back into public ownership, rather than the way it’s being run now.