A WATER company has been fined £15,000 for allowing untreated sewage to be released into a river.
Welsh Water (Dwr Cymru) said it deeply regretted letting sewage flow into the River Clywedog over an 18-month period from December 2010 until July 2012 from its Five Fords Sewerage Treatment Works on Cefn Road, Wrexham Industrial Estate.
At a hearing at Wrexham Magistrates Court yesterday Welsh Water were told they “risked significant harm” by allowing their storm sewage tanks - which are normally reserved for heavy spells of rain - to fill up with sewage.
Sewage treatment level speeds were lower than those required to effectively treat the waste, meaning excess sewage was on site and was put into the overflow storm tanks and discharged into the river.
This was a result of “long-standing operational problems”, the court heard and led to the company taking the decision to release untreated sewage into the river without consulting the Environment Agency or Natural Resources Wales.
Welsh Water pleaded guilty to the charge of polluting the River Clywedog with sewage at the hearing and were handed a £15,000 fine, with an additional £3,793.73 in costs.
Neil Evans, prosecuting, told the court the River Clywedog - a tributary to the River Dee - had higher than usual ammonia levels when Natural Resources Wales ran tests in July 2012.
Those readings correlated with an audit of Five Fords the same month, which revealed the storm tanks, which have a capacity of 5,800 cubic metres, were full.
When asked about this the operations manager at the site said it had been caused by an airlock in their system, but on further investigation by Natural Resources Wales it was revealed that staff had been delibarately filling the storm tanks due to the “operational difficulties” and Five Fords having “problems with hydraulics”.
Mr Evans said Welsh Water were permitted to release a certain amount of untreated sewage into the river, but only at peak rainfall times.
He said this was a “definite company decision”, taken without the knowledge of the relevant environmental authorities.
He added that the evidence was “compelling” that given the times when the tanks were full, there “must have been untreated sewage released into the Clywedog”.
The ammonia levels were not of a level which could have contaminated drinking water supplies or caused significant damage to the environment, the court heard.
Mr Evans added: “Had Welsh Water entered into discussions with the relevant authorities, they would have been able to deal with their operational problems with minimum risk to the river.
“These discussions never took place.”
Richard Kimblin, defending, said Welsh Water “deeply regretted” both the incident and the lack of communication with the relevant regulators.
He argued the company had “no other option” but to deal with their “operational issues” by using the process they did.
He added the problems at the works had since been addressed with a £25 million investment into the Five Fords site, which was completed in summer 2013.
Rowland Humphreys, chairman of the magistrates’ bench, said: “You knowingly allowed sewage to discharge into the river and did not comply with the permitted discharge allowances.
“There were long-standing operational problems and staff were using the storm tanks to balance flows.
“The offence continued over a long period of time, was a delibarate decision by Welsh Water and was not discussed with the regulator.
“There is significant culpability in this matter as there was a significant risk of harm to the environment and water.”
Afer the hearing, Welsh Water spokesman Alun Shurmer said: "We regret what took place and we take our responsibility towards the environment seriously.
“That is why we have invested £25 million into improving Five Fords.
"It is important to emphasise there was no significant environmental impact and we maintain high environmental standards.
"We've invested huge amounts of money in the Wrexham area and we will continue to look to improve water and sewage treatment standards."