The first summit on river pollution was held in July this year at the Royal Welsh Agricultural Show in Builth Wells.
There is a critical need to build more homes in Wales and many developments are being held up because nutrient levels in nearby rivers are too high. Given that, it is surprising that progress in measures to halt the decline in water quality has been so slow.
Designating more sites for bathing water status may not be the silver bullet for water quality that it is sometimes portrayed as.
Wednesday 16th November, 2022
Climate Change Minister Julie James MS, announced in the Senedd yesterday that a summit will be held next February to move forward measures to prevent additional new nutrients entering Welsh rivers. This follows an initial meeting held at the Royal Welsh Agricultural Show in July this year, chaired by First Minister Mark Drakeford.
In her statement, the Minister also stated that an “action plan” would be published to “reduce nutrient concentrations and develop a suite of measures to enable sustainable development to meet the needs of the people and communities of Wales.”
A second summit is welcome news and is reassuring of Welsh Government’s determination to help resolve the of the increasing amount of nutrients in our rivers.
Any new action plan must resolve all pressures on river water quality if any real progress is to be made.
There are already commitments in place to resolve problems with Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs). This new action plan must therefore tackle other causes of decreasing water quality, something which Afonydd Cymru requested of the ‘Better Water Quality Taskforce’ in September. The current failures are the result of many sources of pollution and measures that address them all will be essential if any real difference is to be made. All sectors need to face up to their part of the problem, including individual home owners. On some rivers, the impacts of septic tanks are a real concern.
Considering the urgency of resolving the nutrient issue, both from an ecological and economic perspective, progress has so far been relatively slow. Five of the eight measures that were announced after the July summit are now underway but given the critical need to deliver more homes in Wales, the hope was that some of the others would have been completed by now. It must also be remembered that these measures are only to stop the increase in new nutrients entering rivers, not reduce the existing baseline amounts.
There has been no progress in resolving agricultural pollution with Natural Resources Wales lack enforcement of existing and soon-to-be implemented regulations.
Even less encouraging has been the complete lack of progress on resolving agricultural pollution. The delay by Welsh Government in the implementation of the new regulations last month was a disappointment but far more concerning is Natural Resources Wales’s lack of enforcement of any of the measures that have come in. There appears to be no strategy forthcoming from our environmental regulator as to how it is going to enforce both existing and soon-to-be implemented regulations to protect rivers from bad agricultural practice.
The Minister also announced that Welsh Government would be inviting views on inland bathing water status. While designation may secure more funding for some sites, we need Natural Resources Wales to ensure that compliance can still be met on SAC rivers, alongside recreational usage.
Designating sites as such is perhaps not the silver bullet it often imagined to be. Also, bathing water status designation only works if NRW takes enforcement against those that cause failures. There is no evidence that they can carry out their current enforcement duties, let alone against whole new tier of water quality parameters.
Finally, a report on Wales’s advanced programme of Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) is expected to be published next spring. The Minister stated she will be using it to ensure that Wales’s SuDS also provide habitat for wildlife and increase biodiversity.
Afonydd Cymru would like to see action plans in place to address all pressures on river water quality. Nutrient neutrality is only one of the measures that must be achieved across Wales to protect our rivers. The critical situation means that we must act urgently. In this latest statement Welsh Government calls for everyone to work together for rivers. But for that to happen, all those who contribute to deteriorating river water quality must face up to their part of the problem. Only then can we start working together on solutions.