Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, yr Amgylchedd a Seilwaith

Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee

03/02/2022

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Delyth Jewell MS
Huw Irranca-Davies MS
Janet Finch-Saunders MS
Jenny Rathbone MS
Joyce Watson MS
Llyr Gruffydd MS Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

David Black Ofwat
Ofwat
Eleri Rees Dŵr Cymru
Welsh Water
Gwenllian Roberts Ofwat
Ofwat
James Jesic Hafren Dyfrdwy
Hafren Dyfrdwy
Mark Squire Cyfoeth Naturiol Cymru
Natural Resources Wales
Siân Williams Cyfoeth Naturiol Cymru
Natural Resources Wales
Steve Wilson Dŵr Cymru
Welsh Water

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Andrea Storer Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Elizabeth Wilkinson Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Marc Wyn Jones Clerc
Clerk

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor drwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:30.

The committee met by video-conference.

The meeting began at 09:30.

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau.
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions, and declarations of interest

Bore da ichi i gyd, a chroeso i gyfarfod y Pwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, Amgylchedd a Seilwaith Senedd Cymru. Rŷm ni yn amlwg yn croesawu pawb i'r cyfarfod y bore yma. Mae hwn yn gyfarfod dwyieithog. Mae yna gyfieithu ar y pryd ar gael, felly byddwn i'n annog unrhyw un i gymryd mantais o hwnnw os oes angen. Jest i atgoffa pawb sy'n cymryd rhan, fydd ddim angen ichi reoli eich meicroffonau eich hunain; mi fyddwch chi'n cael eich dadfudo gan rywun anweledig, felly does dim angen ichi wasgu unrhyw fotwm.

Gaf i ofyn ar ddechrau'r cyfarfod, felly, oes yna unrhyw fuddiannau gan unrhyw un i'w datgan, cyn inni gychwyn? Huw.

Good morning and welcome to this meeting of the Climate Change, Environment, and Infrastructure Committee at the Senedd. We welcome you all to the meeting this morning. This is a bilingual meeting. Simultaneous interpretation is available, so if you need that then please do avail yourself of it. Just to remind all participants that they don't need to operate their own mikes; you will be unmuted by somebody behind the scenes, so you won't need to press any buttons.

Could I ask at the beginning of the meeting if there are any declarations of interest? Huw.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. I'm not sure if I need to declare this, but I'm the species champion for the Atlantic salmon. Whether that heightens my already existing interest in river and water quality, I do not know, but I'd better put it on record.

There we are. Well, we're all species champions here, so I suppose we should all acknowledge the fact that that's the case. Okay. Diolch yn fawr.

Iawn. Fe fyddwch chi'n ymwybodol, wrth gwrs, os byddaf i'n colli cysylltiad â'r cyfarfod mi fydd Delyth Jewell yn camu i'r adwy tra fy mod i'n trio datrys unrhyw broblemau technegol sydd wedi codi. Dyna ni, felly.

Right. You will be aware if I do lose contact for any reason that Delyth Jewell will step in to chair whilst I try and resolve any technical difficulties that may arise.

2. Ansawdd dŵr a gollyngiadau carthion – sesiwn dystiolaeth 1
2. Water quality and sewage discharges - evidence session 1

Fe awn ni ymlaen at yr ail eitem, ac rŷm ni wrth gwrs yn edrych heddiw ar ansawdd dŵr a gollyngiadau carthion. Ar gyfer y sesiwn dystiolaeth gyntaf mae gennym ni dystion sydd yn ymuno â ni o Ofwat ac o Cyfoeth Naturiol Cymru. Croeso i chi,David Black, sy'n brif swyddog gweithredol dros dro gydag Ofwat; Gwenllian Roberts, cyfarwyddwr Cymru Ofwat; Mark Squire, rheolwr dŵr cynaliadwy, Cyfoeth Naturiol Cymru; a Siân Williams, pennaeth gweithrediadau gogledd Cymru gyda Cyfoeth Naturiol Cymru. Croeso i'r pedwar ohonoch chi. Mae gennym ni ryw awr a chwarter ar gyfer y sesiwn dystiolaeth yma, felly awn ni yn syth i gwestiynau, os ydy hynny'n iawn gyda phawb, ac mi gychwynnwn ni gyda Delyth Jewell.

We'll move to our second item, and of course today we are looking at water quality and sewage discharges. For the first evidence session we have witnesses from Ofwat and Natural Resources Wales. Welcome to you, David Black, interim chief executive of Ofwat; Gwenllian Roberts, director of Wales, Ofwat; Mark Squire, sustainable water manager, NRW; and Siân Williams, head of operations for north Wales with NRW. A warm welcome to all four of you. We have around an hour and a quarter for this evidence session, so we will move immediately to questions, if that's okay, and we'll start with Delyth Jewell.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Bore da i chi i gyd.

Thank you, Chair. Good morning.

The Environment Agency and Ofwat launched an investigation into sewage treatment works, and, as we all are very aware, that followed a lot of media attention and public anger about sewage being pumped into rivers and seas. Could you clarify, please, whether that investigation in any way does cover Wales, or whether there are any elements of this investigation that are emulated in Wales? Whoever wants to go first.

Hi, I'm happy to begin answering that. So, firstly, yes, thank you very much for the opportunity to appear here. The investigations—. So, there are two investigations. There's an investigation by the Environment Agency in England, and Ofwat has launched an investigation in both England and Wales. So, our roles and remits are different but complementary, and so the Environment Agency is investigating whether companies are in compliance with their what's called flow to full treatment permits—so, i.e., are they treating the appropriate amount of waste water at each sewage treatment works. Our concern is whether companies have overall appropriate systems of control in place to ensure that they are compliant with their statutory obligations. So, the investigation arose out of information from the Environment Agency relating to companies in England, and just to note, of course, that Dŵr Cymru operate in England as well as in Wales, and, as a result of that, we have launched an investigation. Where we're at to date is that we've sent out requests for information from companies. We received back that information in two tranches, the most recent on 22 December. We're currently reviewing that data, and we will be going back to companies to clarify, where appropriate, and we hope to be in a position by the end of this month to announce any further steps in that investigation.

Thank you for that, David, and, before anyone else comes in, in case either you or anyone else wanted to pick this up, are there any ways in which the situation is complicated by the fact that, as you were outlining, there are two separate investigations and that both investigations are in place in England but only one of them would be covered in Wales? Are there any concerns that you might have that the full picture might not be captured in Wales as a result of that?

09:35

We are also engaging with NRW on this. NRW have their own process in terms of assessing and checking compliance by the two Welsh companies. So, perhaps, Mark, if you'd like to come in in terms of this from your perspective.

Good morning, everyone. Just to say in terms of the investigation in Wales, it's slightly different in terms of the approach we've taken around this issue. Since 2014 we've worked with the company on issues of non-compliance in this area, so we're working, if you like, on a case-by-case basis, site by site. When the monitors have gone on, we've assessed that with the company and then worked with Ofwat to bring those non-compliant sites in. What we are doing—and obviously we're aware of the investigation with the Environment Agency and Ofwat—is to use that information to see if we need a change of approach, or if there's anything that we're not doing in Wales that's covered by certainly the Environment Agency, and that may change our regulatory position.

Okay, thank you, Mark. What timescale would you be working towards, do you think, with that, in terms of whether or not you decide that you do need to review how you're looking at it?

We're working with Ofwat and their information needed from the companies is in the moment, so we'll certainly work with Gwen and David on the findings of their investigation. Environment Agency information has gone in via the companies, which will take a bit longer. We'll work on that as soon as the findings from their investigation come out—we'll work against that. If that means changing our enforcement against some of these sites, we'll do that in the short term.

Thank you very much for that. And to anyone who wants to pick this up, really: as a result of the fact that this obviously was and still is something that has certainly incited a lot of public interest and a lot of concern, because of the fact that the situation is slightly different in Wales—I know that we've heard that a lot of groups have been calling for a review into how incidents are reported in Wales—what message would you send to anyone who is concerned, if you can put their minds at rest about why it is that this needs to take time, that these investigations need to be happening slightly differently in Wales? How would you put those groups' minds at rest, please?

For us, it's about finding the right solution to each of the individual assets, and each asset is different. Since 2012 we've been working with the companies and Ofwat to make sure we've got monitors on these sites as well as the storm overflows. That information is leading us to different solutions, working with the companies in different ways, and it's making sure we get the right outcome. So, certainly if there are pollutions in dry weather or occurring that shouldn't, then we have our enforcement powers to use. It's about getting the right solution, and doing things for the benefit of the environment, but also ensuring that we don't make mistakes and have to come back to them in future. So, it is an ongoing evolving process both for ourselves and the Environment Agency and indeed Ofwat.

And from an Ofwat perspective, we obviously recognise there are deep concerns about sewage discharges. We think the current level is unacceptable and that we do need to work to change that. There are issues about compliance, but moving beyond that, there is a broader set of issues, as Mark notes, and that's going to require work by the water companies to address those issues, and action needs to start now. But it's more complicated than just a single enforcement case.

Ocê, diolch, Delyth. Ac mi ddown ni at rai o'r manylion yna wrth inni fynd yn ein blaenau, wrth gwrs—y monitro a beth sydd yn ei le yn barod—ond gawn ni jest ddod nôl ychydig o gamau i edrych ar y broses o drwyddedu gorlifoedd stormydd cyfun, a chaniatáu i'r rheini gael eu gosod yn y lle cyntaf? Allwch chi, Cyfoeth Naturiol Cymru yn benodol, jest sôn ychydig am y broses honna, a beth ŷch chi'n ystyried wrth ystyried ceisiadau trwyddedu o'r fath?

Okay, thank you, Delyth. And we'll come to some of those details as we make progress in terms of monitoring and what's already in place. But if we can just take a few steps back and look at the process of permitting combined storm overflows and allowing those to be put in place in the first instance. Can NRW talk us through that process and how you consider these permitting requests?

Yn amlwg, rydyn ni'n deall y sefyllfa roedd Delyth yn codi gynnau a'r pryderon sydd gan bobl wrth weld gorlifo yn digwydd, ac yn poeni am effaith amgylcheddol y rheini. Ac mae'n bwysig nodi yn y fan yma ein bod ni i gyd yn cymryd y peth o ddifri, a'n bod ni i gyd eisiau symud ymlaen a gwneud yn sicr bod yna welliannau a bod yna broses o wella yn raddol dros y blynyddoedd yma sydd i ddod hefyd.

O ran y trwyddedu, mae gennym ni bolisi yn Cyfoeth Naturiol Cymru nad ydyn ni'n trwyddedu gollyngiadau storm newydd, ond, wrth gwrs, mae yna lawer iawn ohonyn nhw wedi dod drosodd i'r cwmnïau dŵr yn sgil y broses breifateiddio, ac mae'r rheini'n dal mewn bodolaeth.

Wrth gwrs, i fynd yn ôl at le gychwynnodd y syniad yma o gael y systemau carthion sydd yna, roedd yn cael ei ystyried yn ystod y cyfnod Fictoraidd fel rhywbeth arloesol ac fel rhywbeth a oedd yn helpu i symud carthion oddi wrth gartrefi pobl. Roedd yn helpu, wrth gwrs, i wella'r system atal llifogydd hefyd wrth symud dŵr oddi wrth dai a chartrefi pobl. Wedyn, y syniad oedd bod y ddwy system yna'n cael eu cyfuno fel bod gyda ni systemau carthion a systemau dŵr efo'i gilydd, ac roedd hynny'n cael ei ystyried, fel y dywedais i, fel rhywbeth arloesol yn y cyfnod yna. Wrth gwrs, erbyn inni symud at rŵan, mae'r sefyllfa yn wahanol. Dŷn ni'n sylweddoli efallai, pe baem ni'n mynd yn ôl ac ailddylunio pethau, buasai'n well cael dwy system ar wahân, ond, wrth gwrs, y system sydd gyda ni ydy system wedi'i chyfuno—systemau carthion a dŵr wyneb efo'i gilydd. Wedyn, pan mae'r dŵr wyneb yn dod i'r systemau carthion, mae angen pressure release fel ei fod o'n cael ei ollwng yn lle bod yna lifogydd yn digwydd o fewn cartrefi pobl ac yn agos at y cartrefi hynny hefyd. Dyna ydy pwrpas y systemau yma fel maen nhw ar hyn o bryd.

Fel dywedais i, mae gennym ni bolisi yn Cyfoeth Naturiol nad ydyn ni'n trwyddedu rhai newydd. Byddwn ni'n gweithio efo'r cwmnïau dŵr er mwyn lleihau faint ohonyn nhw sydd yna er mwyn lleihau'r effaith ohonyn nhw, ond yn deall pam eu bod nhw yna yn y lle cyntaf. Rydyn ni wedi gweithio dros y blynyddoedd diwethaf efo'r cwmnïau dŵr er mwyn stopio defnydd rhai ohonyn nhw a gwella rhai o'r systemau sydd yna. Wedyn, er ein bod ni wedi trwyddedu rhai newydd, rydyn ni wedi hefyd stopio rhai eraill. Wedyn, o ran y balans, mae yna lai yna rŵan na beth oedd yna ychydig flynyddoedd yn ôl, cyn inni ddechrau ar y gwaith yma hefyd. 

O ran y broses drwyddedu ei hun, dwi ddim yn gwybod faint o fanylion dŷch chi eisiau ar honno, ond y broses ydy ein bod ni'n trafod yn fanwl efo'r cwmnïau dŵr wrth i gynlluniau ddod ar y gweill, wedyn mi fyddwn ni'n mynd drwy broses o fonitro amgylcheddol a monitro o fewn y dalgylch carthion hefyd i weld beth sydd yn dod i mewn, beth sydd yn debygol o ddod allan a beth fyddai effaith hwnnw wedyn ar yr amgylchedd. Dyna ydy'r broses y buasem ni'n mynd drwyddi cyn bod yna unrhyw drwydded yn cael ei rhoi, er mwyn ceisio lleihau'r effaith amgylcheddol o unrhyw ollyngiadau i'r amgylchedd.

Well, clearly, we understand the situation that Delyth raised earlier and the concerns that people have in terms of overflows, and people are concerned about the environmental impact of those. And it's important to note here that we all take the issue very seriously, and we all want to make progress and to ensure that there are improvements made and that there is a gradual process of improvement over ensuing years.

In terms of the permitting, we do have a policy in NRW that we don't permit new CSOs, but, of course, there are very many of them that have been handed to the water companies in light of privatisation, and those are clearly still in existence.

Of course, if we go back to the original idea of having these overflow systems, it was considered during Victorian times as something that was very innovative and something that would help to move sewage away from people's homes. It also helped to improve flood-prevention systems in moving water away from people's homes, and the idea was that the two systems—the sewage system and the water system—should be combined, and it was considered as being very innovative at the time. Of course, in current times, the situation is different. We understand, if we were to go back and to redesign, it would be better to have two separate systems, but the system we have is that it is a combined system—so, sewage and surface water together. So, when the surface water combines with the sewage, you do need the pressure release so that it can be released to prevent flooding in people's homes and close to those homes too. That's the purpose of the systems as they currently exist.

As I said, we do have a policy in NRW that we don't permit new CSOs. We will work with water companies to reduce the number in existence in order to reduce the impact that they have, but we do understand why they are there in the first instance. We have worked in recent years with the water companies in order to stop the usage of some of them and to improve the system. So, although we have permitted some new ones, we have also closed down others. So, in terms of the balance, there are fewer there now than there were some years ago before we started on this work.

In terms of the permitting process itself, I don't know how much detail you want on that, but the process is that we discuss in detail with the water companies as plans are brought forward, and then we go through a process of environmental monitoring and monitoring within the sewage catchment too to see what's coming in, what's likely to flow out and what the impact of that would be on the environment. That's the process that we would go through before any permitting in order to mitigate the environmental impact of any outflows into the environment.

09:40

Lle mae'r rhicyn o ran beth ydy'r lefel dderbyniol? Dwi'n gwybod ei bod yn amrywio o un lle i'r llall, mae'n siŵr, yn dibynnu ar y sensitifrwydd, ond os oes yna rywle sydd yn llai sensitif, ydy e mor syml â dweud eich bod chi'n caniatáu mwy o orlifo?

What is the acceptable level? I'm sure it depends on sensitivities locally, but if there is somewhere that is less sensitive, is it as simple as saying that you allow more overflows?

Ar hyn o bryd, yr unig lefydd lle mae yna nifer sydd yn cael eu caniatáu ydy mewn dyfroedd ymdrochi neu mewn dyfroedd lle mae yna welyau—shellfish beds. Wedyn mae yna gyfyngiadau fel yna ar faint o ollyngiadau sydd yn gallu digwydd o fewn y tymor ymdrochi i rai traethau neu yn y flwyddyn i'r lleill. O fewn afonydd, ar hyn o bryd, does yna ddim cyfraith na pholisi sydd yn cyfyngu ar faint o ollyngiadau sydd yna mewn blwyddyn. Wedyn, fel dywedoch chi, ar achosion, rydyn ni'n edrych arnyn nhw fesul un, yn sbïo beth ydy'r dalgylch, beth ydy'r ansawdd amgylcheddol ar hyn o bryd a beth fuasai'r effaith cyn ein bod ni wedyn yn trwyddedu.

At the moment, the only place where a certain number is allowed is in bathing water or in waters where there are shellfish beds. So, there are such restrictions in terms of the overflows that can happen in the bathing seasons on beaches and so on. In terms of rivers, there is no law or policy that limits the outflows in a period of a year. So, we look at it case by case, we look at the catchment, we look at the environmental standards at present and what the impact would be before permitting.

Oes angen cyfraith i gyfyngu nifer y gollyngiadau?

Do we need law to limit this?

Mae o'n rhywbeth dŷn ni wedi bod yn ei drafod ac efallai ei fod o'n rhywbeth i'w ystyried wrth inni fynd yn ein blaenau rŵan, oherwydd, ar hyn o bryd, fel y dywedais i, mae yna gyfyngiadau oherwydd iechyd pobl—dyna ydy'r prif reswm dros y cyfyngiadau hynny yn y dyfroedd yna. Ond, ydy, mae o'n rhywbeth—. I edrych ymlaen at y dyfodol, wrth gwrs, mae yna fwy o drafod rŵan ynglŷn â'r cyswllt rhwng pobl ac afonydd a'r amgylchedd hefyd, ac efallai ei fod o'n rhywbeth i ni ei drafod a'i ystyried wrth inni fynd yn ein blaenau.

Well, it's something that we have been discussing and something that we perhaps should consider as we move forward, because, as I said, there are restrictions because of human health—that's the main consideration in those particular waters. But, yes, it is—. In looking to the future, yes, there is more discussion now on the link between people and rivers and the environment more broadly, and it may be something for consideration as we move forward.

A fyddai'n gwneud bywyd Cyfoeth Naturiol Cymru yn—wel, ddim yn haws, mae hwnna'n swnio braidd yn ffwrdd â hi, ond yn sicr a fyddai e'n gwneud eich gwaith chi'n fwy effeithiol ac yn fwy clir petai yna fframwaith cryfach i chi fod yn glir ynglŷn â faint sy'n dderbyniol, a bod yna parameters clir o gwmpas y maes yma?

Would it make NRWs life—well, not easier, that sounds a little flippant, but would it make your work more effective and efficient and clearer if there was a stronger framework in place so that you could be clear on what parameters were acceptable?

Mae eisiau meddwl yn ofalus, dwi'n meddwl, cyn ein bod ni'n mynd i lawr y trywydd yna, oherwydd os buasai yna gyfyngiad ynglŷn â faint o ollyngiadau y buasai'n gallu digwydd mewn blwyddyn, buasai'n rhaid iddo fo fynd i rywle arall. Wedyn, dyw e ddim mor syml bob amser â rhoi plwg i mewn ar un peth; mae o'n mynd i ddod allan yn rhywle arall. Wedyn, mae eisiau ystyried y dalgylch yn ei gyfanrwydd, o ran dalgylch afon a'r dalgylch systemau carthion hefyd, ac ystyried beth sydd yn mynd i ddod i mewn, beth sy'n mynd i fynd allan, a beth ydy'r peth gorau i'w wneud o ran y bobl.

O ran edrych ymlaen, dwi'n gwybod y buasai pobl yn licio gweld llai o'r gollyngiadau yma, ond mewn rhai achosion, efallai y buasai o'n golygu adeiladu tanciau mawr, ac fe fuasai effaith amgylcheddol o wneud peth felly, yn hytrach na chael y gollyngiadau yma. Wedyn, mae eisiau meddwl yn ofalus cyn ein bod ni'n mynd i lawr y trywydd yna.

I think we do need to look carefully before we go down that particular route, because if there were a restriction in terms of the outflows in a year, then it would have to go elsewhere. So, it's not always as simple as to plug in one pipeline; it would have to go elsewhere. So, you'd have to consider the catchment in its entirety, in terms of river catchment and the sewage system catchment too, and consider what is going in, what is coming out, and what is the best thing to do in terms of the people in that area.

In terms of looking to the future, I know that people would like to see fewer of these cases, but in some cases, it might mean building large new tanks, and there would be an environmental impact of that, rather than seeing these outflows. So, we need to think carefully before we go down that route.

09:45

Ac mae eisiau taro cydbwysedd rhwng buddsoddi mewn isadeiledd a chreu elw i rai cwmnïau, efallai, hefyd. Mae honno'n drafodaeth wahanol, ond dyna fo, dwi'n siŵr mae'n un fydd yn cael ei gwyntyllu.

Yes, and you need to strike a balance between investment in infrastructure and profit generation for some companies too. That's a different discussion, but there we are, that is something that I'm sure we'll come to.

Joyce, did you want to come in here? Sorry, I wasn't sure whether you indicated, or Mark wants—. Let Joyce come in first and maybe Mark can pick up on that as well.

Just on rivers, and, obviously, the sewage discharge will combine in a lot of rivers in the area that I cover, Mid and West Wales, with farmland pollution, and there have been very many incidents of those, which aren't mentioned as a threat in your paper at all, I have to say, but maybe you've followed the parameters of what you've been asked, but Dee waterway do mention it. But anyway, when you're considering these discharges, as you say, around the parameters that you've explained, do you take account, then, of the already increased pollution that is in those rivers without adding even more into them?

If I can come in there. For any discharge, whether it's a continuous discharge from sewage works or the operation of an overflow, the modelling that Siân mentioned earlier will pick up upstream and downstream concentrations of pollution. So, all available data that NRW has or has access to will go into assessing the parameters for the permit. We've also taken that one stage further in recent years and we're looking now at areas like the Wye and the Usk, working with a company on building models that show a whole-catchment approach so that we can get that understanding of impacts from sectors and what we need to do in those areas. But certainly, for as long as I can remember, it's been to take all available information before you set the limits on any permit. There are then margins that you can put within that permit to account for other sector pollutions.

Okay. Did you want to pick up on something else, Mark? Sorry, I allowed Joyce to come in.

It was just the point that you and Siân were discussing around overflows and setting limits. There is work that we're doing with the EA, and the information that we're getting now from the monitors, it's called the storm overflow assessment framework process. We probably don't have enough time to go through it in detail, but it's how we're going to work out whether we need spill limits on discharges in the future. Siân mentioned bathing and shellfish, but it will be then extended. And the SOAF process is looking at inland waters at the moment, so that may come, but as Siân says, it needs to be on environmental need, not just on a number.

Mr Black, I just want to get some clarity about exactly what the role of Ofwat is. You talk about transforming companies' performance, you talk about encouraging companies to address the challenges, and you talk about companies spending customers' money efficiently. What was your role when Southern Water was dumping industrial quantities of sewage into the rivers and seas all over southern England?

In terms of that particular incident, that was one incident where we—

Indeed, yes. And we were appalled at what happened and outraged, and we did—. That's where we took enforcement action. We took enforcement action against the company as soon as we learnt from the Environment Agency about the issues, and that resulted in, effectively, penalties and fines coming to around £127 million. The Environment Agency has subsequently prosecuted them for breaches of criminal law, and, to date, has resulted in fines of £90 million. So, there has been—

09:50

I've read the newspapers. I want to know what the role of Ofwat was. I'm fully aware of the heroic efforts of an individual in the Environment Agency who's persistently pursued this matter. What was Ofwat doing while all this was going on?

So, our role is to hold companies to account when they fall short, as Southern Water clearly did in this incident. So, in terms of our powers, the companies have a licence and we enforce the terms and conditions of that licence. So, the Environment Agency is the agency responsible for monitoring what goes on at sewage treatment works and the discharges themselves; what we're interested in is whether the company was acting in an appropriate way, did it know what was going on, and, clearly, that wasn't the case. So, in that particular instance, we took enforcement action and took the most vigorous action that we have been able to do. And I don't think we can understate the impacts on the company itself: there's been a complete change in the leadership team, the investors who invested in the company at that time have now largely exited the company, and they have incurred significant damages. So, it is an appalling situation, a company that fell well short of its obligation—

I know all that. I'm struggling to understand what you actually did. I know the judge took really firm action, but what did you do to try and prevent this? It was actually in their business plan that they would dump all this sewage rather than treat it.

We took enforcement action as soon as we realised what was going on. So, our enforcement action actually took place prior to the court judgment, so we reacted as soon as we became aware of the issue. And so, that is part of our powers in terms of holding companies to account, and that's what we have done, and we'll continue to do so.

So, convince us—. I'm not casting aspersions on NRW in any way, but how do you know whether NRW is doing its job properly? Because you don't seem to have been aware of what was going on over so many years at one of the major water companies in this country.

So, we work closely with both NRW and the Environment Agency. In this case, Southern Water deceived both the Environment Agency and us in terms of its reporting on the issue and concealing the issue. That is a risk in the system and that's why we've taken punitive action and why the Environment Agency has taken strong action as well. It could be the case we're having stronger sanctions against company management in these cases. But this is where it's important for both ourselves and the environmental regulators to work closely together, to understand what's going on. There are risks that companies don't comply and this is where the enforcement role of both agencies is important. Mark—

What has changed to ensure that you know that companies are not doing this sort of thing?

So, we are dependent on working with both the Environment Agency and NRW in this case. We do not have an independent inspection capability—that's not our role. So, our role is about enforcement of licence conditions, and so we have taken the strongest possible action in this case, and I think that has set a very powerful precedent for the rest of the sector. There's a question for me about: is that sufficient or ought there be more powers to take action, and particularly against company management teams who may have been responsible for what happened? But that's a question about the law, actually.

Sure. No, I understand that. On whose insistence was it that monitors were installed at sewage treatment works? Was it Ofwat or was it the enforcement agency—in this case, NRW?

So, Mark, do you want to pick that one up?

Okay, thank you. In terms of how the process worked in Wales, the monitors were going back to 2010 and the infraction case that we had around the Burry inlet. One of the decisions that was made between then EA Wales and Welsh Government was that we needed to install monitors to know more about these discharges. That started in 2012. In England, I believe similar conversations, because they had similar infractions, were going on a few years later. So, we started that process between ourselves. The way that works is that then we need to bring Ofwat into that conversation to ensure that companies are funded to install those monitors, and that programme has gone on since 2012, and we're up to about 98 per cent coverage of storm overflows now in Wales, which is no mean feat with the technology, and that has evolved, like all technology, at a very fast pace in the last 10 years.

09:55

Right. Thank you very much for that useful information. Could you just tell us about the number of breaches that have been investigated and categories of spill since the Burry inlet incident?

In terms of the number of spills, certainly since 2013, the number of spills that have come in per asset, obviously, is looked at on an individual basis. The Burry inlet information I don't have to hand, but there are a high number of spills. We're looking at—. That spill information comes in to us annually from the company. That's then assessed by our officers in terms of impact against any known failures, any known issues around the locality of the discharge and then enforcement action is either taken or we build that into the asset management planning round, which we work with Ofwat on, and the companies, to ensure that improvements to those assets are made.

In the Burry inlet, in a very quick potted history, the modelling that we mentioned was done in 2010, which then gave us an idea of the number of spills from the data, which then resulted in permits being put in place to ensure that the company was building the infrastructure to hit that number of spills. Obviously, with climate change, we've still got work to do, and I probably should have mentioned—I think we're going to come on to it—we've got work, as EA have, around storm overflows, and we've been looking at that through a taskforece of what further work we need to do, going forward.

Okay. I don't know if you can write to us about the number of breaches you've investigated since the wake-up call around—

We certainly can. We'll take that action, no problem.

Okay. Could you tell us about any action that's been taken against a polluter since that time?

In general, yes. Since 2013, in terms of water company actions, we've taken 13 prosecutions, 24 formal cautions, four enforcement undertakings that relate only to fisheries activities—it's an area we're looking at with Welsh Government to widen those powers—213 warning letters and 31 instances of advice and guidance.

Thank you for that information. Mr Black, could you tell us what role you have in the action taken against polluters? Are you simply being provided with this information? What exactly is your role in ensuring that polluters don't repeat this?

So, our role writes the enforcement of licence conditions that companies have, and so that writes, actually, their framework generally, to make sure they are complying with their obligations, and so, when we, for example, hear of either investigations or actions, then we consider whether or not that would breach the company's licence conditions. So, we're not seeking to duplicate what the environmental regulators do. Our role is about regulating water companies themselves, and part of that is making sure that they have an appropriate system of control to ensure that they are able to comply with those obligations. 

Okay. So, in the case of our two water companies, have you, at any point in the last 10 years, felt the need to either reprimand them or prosecute them?

I'm not aware of any action against either of those two companies. Obviously, Hafren's relatively recent, but—

Just to come in because I have the history around this. Certainly around the time of the infraction, which is slightly over 10 years, Ofwat did threaten the company with putting them on report against the area in terms of some of their performance in terms of sewage works. In terms of performance, we look at that through the rolling performance assessment, yearly—we're quite happy to send details of that—which judges the company against a certain set of criteria.

So, having put them on report, what transformation has taken place?

In that instance, we didn't put them on—. The threat of report was enough to see the company go from a one-, two-star company up to, last year, we reported them as a four-star company, as I say, in the parameters that we judge them against, so, sewage works compliance, the number of pollution incidents as whole, category 1 to 3—there is a set criteria. So, the threat of that sanction, from certainly the economic side, meant that the company had a far greater focus on environmental performance.

10:00

The only thing I'd add on top of that is we have what we call a performance commitment framework in which we set price controls, and there are effectively automatic incentives and penalties applied, including on pollution incidents. So, if a company falls short of its target of reducing pollution incidents, then it will incur penalties. So, through the framework controls, even when companies, if you like, may well be complying with letter of the law, it is about driving better performance from the companies.

Okay. How many penalties have you imposed in the last 10 years?

So, every year now we do an assessment of penalties and incentive payments. So, I'd have to come back to you with details, but there are quite a number of outcome delivery incentive penalties that have been imposed on the companies.

Thank you. Good morning, everybody. Talking about combined storm overflows discharges, the CCRA3 technical report for Wales estimates that, in winter, rainfall is expected to increase by approximately 6 per cent by the 2050s and by 7-13 per cent by the 2080s. I think we're all aware in our own communities that we see milder winters and lots more rainfall. So, what research have you undertaken to review what mitigation steps can be implemented to deal with what is now a frequent rainfall rise? And, given that there is a presumption against permitting new storm overflows, what additional research is required to implement a longer term and sustainable adaptation plan, given that Welsh Water predict removing all CSOs, and that could cost them up £14 billion?

I'm quite happy to come in. Certainly, the work around climate change and what we're looking at—. In terms of the research we're doing, firstly, you mentioned the figure there around removing storm overflows: that is an option, which is something that we will continue to discuss with Welsh Government, and I know that we have a piece of work going on to look at those costs and what could be. But what we're focused on at the moment is that understanding mitigation with storm overflows. So, we're looking at the modelling techniques we have, making sure that we can account for these types of discharges and different weather patterns better, and we're working with Welsh Water, but also with consultants to try and understand that better, so we can make the right investment decisions.

We're also looking at the impact. How do we control it? It's really a societal issue. It's about what we put down the toilet, but it's also about water efficiency, so we're looking at some of our water efficiency measures within Wales and certainly within NRW—how we can promote those. And it's about getting that balance. So, at the moment, there's no presumption to actually build, as Siân mentioned earlier, a separate system; it's about how we can actually mitigate that.

Also, from a regulatory point of view, our permits, in terms of dry-weather events. Definitions that we've used in the past—are they fit for the future? So, what is a wet-weather event? It's certainly different in Wales than it would be in the south-east of England—having lived in both, I can guarantee that. So, there is a great piece of work to do around the regulatory controls that we have. I think we will so those changes, which will put more pressure on companies to design in different ways, use nature-based solutions, as we've seen in Wales. It had good effect. Making sure that there's that right type of investment. And we'll review that continuously with Ofwat, and that conversation's going in England as well. So, there will be changes, and the regulation of these will change. The backdrop is always climate change, those weather patterns that continue changing, and that needs to be built in to our modelling.

Just from an Ofwat perspective, it does emphasise the need for long-term planning. So, water infrastructure takes time to get in place, and it takes time to build and plan. So, we're very much focused for the next—[Inaudible.]—on encouraging a long-term approach. There are—[Inaudible.]—frameworks in terms of water resource management planning and the new drainage and wastewater management plans, but it's really important, as you say, that there's an understanding of what the future impacts are, and then we start work towards that. And as Mark said, it's not just about building the infrastructure as well, in terms of new tanks or treatment works; it is about getting nature-based solutions, innovative schemes like RainScape, rolled out more, I think. 

10:05

Thank you. And I can just say, on the point that Mark made, it's about what people put down and things. I've run many a campaign in Aberconwy, really going out there and highlighting that you must not be flushing down wet wipes and things, with all the plastics. Because I know locally Dŵr Cymru have experienced a lot of problems, so, again, it gives me the opportunity to remind anyone watching that, when we talk about pollution and incidents that happen, sometimes these are caused by ourselves, if you like. 

Recent reports claim—

Sorry, Janet—before you go on, I think Siân wanted to come in, just on this as well. 

Yes, just to add to what Mark was saying really, then, Janet. I think one of the things that we've discussed separately on local issues as well is that the way that we're thinking is much more in a catchment, holistic approach now. So, we've two types of catchment—obviously there's the sewage catchment and there's the river catchment, and so, picking up from Joyce's point earlier as well, this isn't necessarily just around the water companies and the sewerage infrastructure, but thinking more widely about how we use water, how we need water, how we manage the water within the catchment across the board. And also the impacts that we have, the impacts that are had on us as well, and how we as Wales can all work together, I think, is something that we're really keen on, thinking into the future now as all of us together, from citizens to regulators to operators, how we can fit all of those pieces of the jigsaw together, looking to climate change as well into the future, and the way that we would need to adapt.

I think you know I'm mightily impressed with the works that are going up in the upper parts of Conwy valley, and how that partnership working with all the agencies, including NRW, is just fantastic.

Now, recent reports claim water companies—

Just a brief point as well, to flag as well, based on what somebody's just said there, no one sector or organisation has the answer here, and it's very much how we collaborate. Mark had referred to the better river quality taskforce, and that's been established very much about looking at this from a whole-system approach, and how regulators and key stakeholders work together, so I think it's really important to flag that up as a really positive thing, and we really need to be building the momentum around that and other collaborative approaches that we have in Wales. Diolch.

Thank you, Gwenllian. Recent reports claim that water companies are regularly failing to report spills, or reporting them to be a lower category, so that enforcement action is not triggered. I'm aware that Ofwat is currently analysing responses to their open letter on this issue. Beyond publishing an initial assessment, what would a successful outcome of this process look like, and do you feel that it would be beneficial to our scrutiny processes if NRW undertook a similar investigation here in Wales?

So, as Mark said, NRW has taken a different approach in Wales. Obviously, we're still part way through the investigation that we're conducting, still gathering information and understanding what it means. I think, once we've done that, there'll be an opportunity to consider what we can learn from that, and particularly what might be relevant in the Welsh context. I think one of the things that we've put focus on though is that there's one point about our companies complying with their permits; the second point is about how do we get to a place, how do we get to a much better place, and how do we address those outcomes. So, one of the things we've asked companies to come back with if they are not in compliance is also their proposed steps to get back into compliance and to address these issues. So, I think it is important that we keep in mind the goal here is to get to a better place, and, as I think Mark said, there are a number of ways that we can work towards that. 

Janet mentioned there low-level pollution, and I know there'll be questions asked of NRW about the threshold and how you decide what's a priority, what's not a priority, and how low is low level, et cetera. Where are we on that? It is a cause of concern for the public, and, of course, the other concern is that, collectively, a number of low-level incidents can have, together, a substantial impact. So, can you just put our minds at rest a little bit around that? Siân. 

10:10

Yes, I think—. Yes, and I understand the concern that you have and that members of the public have as well. Obviously, we need to prioritise the way that we respond and the way that we use our officers, and that's why we have—part of the reason why we have—the categorisation system in place, so that we make sure that we're able to respond to the biggest, the worst pollution incidents, and that those come as a priority. We do a lot of monitoring of the environment, and that's what we tend to use more to pick up on the lower-level things. And I think it's also important to note that, a lot of the low-level issues, they don't come to us as pollution incidents; people don't necessarily pick up the phone every time they see something. It's more, 'Oh, that's going', and, 'That's the way it is', kind of attitude. So, I think one of the things that is important is to understand, as I said earlier, this whole catchment approach, and thinking of all of the diffuse inputs, all of the pipes that we see and the discharge inputs, and the outputs as well, and how all of those things come together.

And that's part of the reason that we are now thinking not differently—we've had the water framework directive already for the last few years, and that has driven us to think in a catchment approach—but now we're starting to think about how we take that forward in a different way. We have agricultural regulations coming in now, which gives a different opportunity. Obviously, we have the Environment (Wales) Act 2016 in Wales, which gives us an opportunity to work in a place-based way with stakeholders, thinking about a sustainable management of natural resources approach. In all of these things, I think it's really important that we consider things differently, that we consider the people, the environment and all of those parts of the jigsaw together as well.

So, yes, we do have to prioritise the higher level incidents. We don't ignore the low-level ones, but they do tend to form more of the general picture and will be picked up more through monitoring than any incident attendance. We simply don't have the resources to respond to everything. I'll hand over to Mark. 

Before Mark comes in, that was exactly the point I was going to make. To what extent is—? How far down that chain do you go in terms of investigating incidents? To what extent is that dictated by your capacity to pursue all of those?

For water company incidents, we do a lot of work with the water company so that, if something is reported to the company themselves, they inform us and we would then work in partnership, if you like, to ask them for information and use that information as part of our evidence gathering, and they are then responsible for stopping it and letting us know what's happened in terms of stopping it. If we're getting lots of reports into ourselves then, obviously, that may push it up in terms of the response level for us. But we have got quite a robust triage system in place that would then enable us to work out whether we'd need to respond or not.  

You're muted again now, Huw. I don't know, you're flickering on and off, so maybe try again. Try again. Oh. Yes, you're still there. Go on. Try again, then, Huw. You're unmuted now.

Okay. Sorry, Chair. It's a very poor connection. I'm hoping that you can hear me as I ask this question. I just want to push a little bit further on this. The issue of at what point you actually take action on lower-level incidents—so-called lower-level incidents—people like the Rivers Trust in England, but, here in Wales, Surfers Against Sewage, the various river trusts and others, are calling for stronger action to be taken, whether it's enforcement or whether it's within the river basin management plans in the medium to longer term, because of the cumulative impact of these. And I know this from my own area. Whilst I recognise what you've put in your evidence to us, that this is being exacerbated by more traumatic weather incidents, in narrow valleys, for example, like the Garw or the Ogmore valley, where there's faster run-off, it does mean that we're having more frequent, smaller-scale incidents, which have a cumulative effect then on the ecology, as well as the water quality. So, is this an issue of resources? Because if that is the case, then there's a clear message for Welsh Government.

10:15

Yes, just to comment. I think you made some very valid points there, Huw. I think what we've picked up through—. As we've mentioned earlier, one of the areas that the taskforce will look at is the impact, the evidence base around, with increased spills, what is coming out of those discharges—so, the actual constitution of the discharge—and then in terms of how that is impacting on river quality at the time. And I think that evidence base, when you've got a concentrated number of assets in a small area, will give us a better indication of the action that's then required. It'll also give us, from a regulatory sense, that evidence to understand whether we need to take faster action, or we can allow the company to build it into the process. 

If I may also, just to build on Siân's point, the one process that does work quite well in terms of pollution incidents with the water companies is the self-reporting element. Through our environmental performance assessment, the companies have to self-report. If they don't self-report, they're penalised. As David mentioned, the outcome delivery incentives process sets that up. So, the incentive for the companies is to actually report the right number, because, as Siân says, if we get those incidents reported to us, that's then reported in our yearly figures, and that then, generally, will become a penalty against a company in the measures that Ofwat set. So, there is—. You mentioned, Llyr, about cooking the books in some respects and underreporting. That is a way of ensuring that companies are open and transparent on what they report, and we've seen, in Wales, that go up from, in 2012, about 30 per cent, up to the industry standard of 80 per cent now, which shows we're going in the right direction. 

Chair, if you're happy, that's fine. I'll return to this later if we've got time. 

Yes, okay. Thank you. Joyce wanted to come in as well. 

Just on the cumulative effect of small spills. And I'm also going to talk about poultry units, which you won't be surprised to hear, and also intensive farming. And if we're going to talk about the whole river basin, which I think we should be always talking about, you also can inform local authorities when planning applications come in about your concerns. I understand that, that you're a statutory consultee. And my concerns here are trying to prevent things happening that you know have already happened. So, if we were looking at Powys, that gives us a clear indication of what can happen if you get multiple small-scale applications, and then, therefore, the pollution that we're seeing. The same thing is happening now in Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion. In fact, big companies are inviting people to apply to become small-scale, maybe, in the scheme of things, chicken farm operatives. 

So, my question is this: prevention is always better than cure, especially when we're talking about river pollution, and thereby sea pollution. If we talk about the cumulative effect, which is where I started, there is evidence that I have seen that says that the dissipation of chicken manure is not as quick as if it was cow manure, let's say. So, I just want to understand here your role and your function in preventative action, because I'd much rather see that than trying to take a course of action that you might have foreseen or others might have foreseen. 

I'll start and then probably hand over to Mark for more detail on this later. But, yes, absolutely, and I recognise what you're saying there, Joyce. We are a consultee on planning applications, as you said. And, as part of that consultation, we use, through our planning specialists, we then use our water quality specialists, and the evidence and the data that we have, in the response that we provide. So, there will be advice given to planning authorities regarding issues on water, and advice given regarding some measures that would need to take place to prevent harm to the water environment.

One of the things that we have set up, and I'm sure you're aware, as an, again, joint initiative, is the nutrient management boards that now exist in some of the catchments in Powys that you mentioned there. And those are working pretty well. It's a cross-sector approach, again, that we mentioned earlier, looking at how we can consider the whole catchment together, rather than thinking of different industries or different inputs, as single inputs. And like you say, all the smaller ones do build up and there is a cumulative effect of those. We're hoping to build on what we've done on those catchments and learnt there, to expand that to other catchments as well. So, we've focused so far on nutrients, and we've focused so far on those rivers and the SAC rivers—the special areas of conservation—but what we're hoping to do is to do more of that and to expand that to other catchments as well.

Part of the work that's being done for the SAC rivers is source apportionment, where we've been working with others—water companies and others—to look at all of the evidence that we have and the data that we have, and, as it says, apportion the amount of impact that different sources are having on those catchments. And that's a really important piece of work, to understand where we would need to target interventions in the future and where we would need to work, whether it is looking at water company discharges, whether it is looking at agricultural practices, whether it's looking at individuals and how we manage our own use of water, on what we're putting down the drains, and how we target our efforts and the communications and so on that go around that as well. Mark has been much closer than I have to source apportionment, so I'm sure will explain a lot more about what that means.

10:20

Yes, very briefly. It's first steps—source 1 tells you by sector. And it's not an exact science, it's using all the information to actually say—it will give you some figures. In the Wye, that work says 70 per cent is coming from agriculture, and 30 per cent from sewage treatment and other sources. Then it's about what measures do we need to take and what our role is, Joyce—to give that advice. Some of this may result in legislative change, or regulation change, around things like the size of poultry units that come under regulation. So, all that is in the mix, and it's our role to provide the evidence, and, in some areas, we'll need to build more of that evidence. And I think poultry units are a good example of where things have just exploded in 10 years—gathering that evidence, as Siân says, through those nutrient management boards, not just the empirical evidence that we can provide, but also the evidence from the sector within, and through into these management boards, which can then set that direction and what actions are required, which is a requirement under the regulations.

I understand all of that. I suppose I need to get a bit like Jenny—a bit more forceful. That's after the event; I'm trying to look at things before the event, and Huw was much on the same space as me as well. Retrograde is not what I'm after; this is all retrograde. And for us, then, because we're a committee that can give direction or suggestions to Government, what is it that we need to be thinking about now that isn't preventing these things happening, so you're looking at it afterwards to see who's polluted the most, but to stop it in the first place? That's what we really need from you, so that we can then present that when we put our report.

I would go back to those nutrient management boards to actually give that indication to come to these groups, in terms of that suite of interventions and preventative measures, things like legislative changes, that would be required to, if you like, stop things happening akin to this in the future.

Just to close, I think it's important always that we're learning, and, unfortunately, in some cases, things have happened that we wouldn't have liked to have happened, and evidence, as we gather it and as we learn—. We're learning a lot more and evidence is showing that there have been some cases where, obviously, the river water quality isn't what we want it to be, or what you want it to be, or what the people of Wales want it to be. So, I think it's important that we're learning from past history and past events and making sure, like you say, that we're planning for that in the future as well. And that is part of what we're doing with the nutrient boards, as Mark said—not just looking at how we can fix the problems of the past, but how we can learn from those and prevent it from happening elsewhere in the future as well.

10:25

I'd like to move on to discuss your development of a road map for storm overflows. Hafren Dyfrdwy suggest that nature-based solutions should be the first choice to address environmental challenges, yet sustainable drainage systems schemes like Greener Grangetown and the RainScape are few and far between. They're great, but there are hardly any of them. So, what is the collaborative arrangement you've got going to do to address that? What measures are you taking to try and stop water that isn't sewage from going into the sewage system and then all the costs associated?

Okay, just very briefly, then, the road map is set into five areas we've identified, which won't be uncommon to everyone here, in terms of looking at the capacity of the network, looking at the regulation that we have around the network and the effectiveness of that regulation. And where you're coming from, Jenny, there are the measures then in terms of stakeholder community engagement that we need to undertake, which brings in what people are putting down in their sewers, what people are actually doing as their contribution—

We've discussed that already. I appreciate that's appalling. I want to focus on what we're doing in the built environment to stop all that valuable rainwater from going into the sewage system.

So, through the regulation through the AMP process, which David, I think already mentioned, that push in terms of our regulatory approach will be to, not force the companies, but for the companies to look at sustainable solutions as they design through their storm overflows or through their schemes. So, that will be built as part of the regulation piece in the road map—how companies are going to tackle this.

The offset, I think, against sustainable drainage is that they take longer, firstly, to develop, and, secondly, to install and see the payback. So, the companies have got a challenge to get that right between immediate problems and then planning for the longer term. So, there's an element of ensuring that the permits behind that can actually support the work that the company is doing. And I think, from an Ofwat and a customer point of view, it's worth getting that cost and benefits balance right on some of these schemes. Sustainable drainage is, as we've seen in Grangetown and in Llanelli—they are great solutions, but they won't fit everywhere and, in some cases, we'll need to ensure that the permit and the work the company does are in place a lot quicker than sustainable drainage. But the presumption will be design with the long term—getting that water out of the sewer, working with the company, working with stakeholders, local authorities about how we do that work and ensuring that, maybe, we need legislative change to take more surface water out of the sewers in the long term. And that's a lot of the work that the road map and the organisations involved are taking forward. 

I would suggest that 'maybe' is not the operable word, because we know that the housing and the big house builders—they only build the same old, same old, unless you force them to do something different. So, you haven't yet had conversations, then, on this with the Welsh Government.

The Welsh Government are part of the road map and the task force. We've brought in Afonydd Cymru and we've brought in the Consumer Council for Water, as the consumer voice, and now we're looking at the Welsh Local Government Association and the role that they need to play within this sphere. And certainly we're working at the retrofitting—that's obviously key as well, getting the water that's there. We've got the Schedule 3 to the Flood and Water Management Act 2011, which means that new developments shouldn't be putting any more surface water in. But we've got a real challenge, as Janet mentioned there, with climate change to actually start getting the water out in a big way in a reasonable timescale.

Thank you for that. Janet, did you want to come in on this? Sorry, I missed—. And Joyce as well actually.

Well, no. We've galloped ahead. I've still got question 5 to ask.

10:30

Well, hang on—let's just conclude on this first, then. Joyce, you wanted to come in on this point.

I do. Urban creep is, of course, a big problem. So, when you're giving—. And we're talking about prevention again, because I like to talk about prevention. We've covered what you're doing in the here and now. We've got SuDS—that's great—but it doesn't stop urban creep, necessarily. So, in terms of trying to do something ahead of time, especially when we're talking about building more and more houses—. In fact, we can see people building more and more houses, picking up Jenny's point. They will continue doing that in the same way as they always do, if nothing else happens. So, in terms of, again, your role in advising planning applications, do you take account, when you're talking about surface water management—? There will be a presentation to you saying, 'These are the mitigations that we have, should this—.' It's obviously going to create surface water by putting non-permeable surfaces on what was a permeable surface anyway. Is there any allowance for urban creep, because the first thing that very many people do is take out the lawn and put in some concrete for their car, for example? And it causes 11 per cent more surface water than what might have actually been suggested in the original planning, and that creates an awful lot of problems for an awful lot of people, especially now, more so than ever. I just want to understand that, especially since Welsh Government are already around the table.

Yes. In terms of that piece in itself, SuDS, there is work led by Welsh Government specifically around what next, if you like, in terms of the Schedule 3. We are involved in that conversation. It isn't part of the road map work around storm overflows, but it is a piece of work that we're involved in. In terms of advice, the advice we give back to local authorities is around the enactment of Schedule 3 to the floods and water Act. Could that be strengthened? Yes. Could we do more? Yes, as Wales, now, and NRW. So, we are playing into that piece of work, but we would probably direct it to Welsh Government to see how far that's going and at what pace.

Okay. The last word on this to Jenny, then, before we come to Janet for another—

I just wanted to highlight what Hafren have put in their paper, which I know Dŵr Cymru are worried about too, which is illegal connections going on because of the inadequate planning enforcement, and I just wondered: how does that fit into the road map for storm overflows? I suppose it's a slightly separate thing, but it does mean that stuff's going into the grey water that most definitely shouldn't be there.

It's certainly something that we're aware of and is part of the bigger picture. That's one of the main reasons for including the WLGA, as we go forward now, in that group, so that we're covering all planning aspects and, as I said, joining all those pieces together as well.

Okay. Diolch yn fawr iawn. Okay, we'll come back to you, then, Janet.

Thank you, Chair. We talked about nature-based solutions before, and I note that a commitment has been made to strengthen those during this Senedd term. Dŵr Cymru has highlighted that in order to achieve a 95 per cent reduction in the volume split from CSOs at only two locations, a £115 million investment over an eight-year period was required. Now, I spoke earlier, and Siân—. We know what's going on in my constituency, but what assessments have been done to ascertain the total cost and time frame of implementing nature-based solutions across the whole of Wales?

Okay, who wants to come in on this? I mean, Ofwat would be aware of those figures, I'd imagine, given that you're looking at price reviews and that kind of thing.

So, just in terms of—. As far as I'm aware, we haven't seen a number like that in Wales. There was work being done in an English context in terms of looking at pretty traditional solutions, actually, in terms of re-engineering systems, and that comes up with very large numbers. But I think there's a huge question about: there's still a lot that we don't know, I think, in terms of how we can get to efficient and innovative solutions here. As part of the green recovery, Severn Trent are trialling an £80 million project at Mansfield to basically divert water before the sewers, and so we'll see how that project works out over the next two years. That'll tell us something about both the cost but also the benefits of doing so. We've obviously got the work being done on RainScape, which was mentioned in an earlier point. I think there is lots of potential here. I don't think we're yet that far along in terms of having a robust cost number on there, but I do think that clearly, we need to understand the root causes of storm overflows and then we need to be able to look at what the solutions, what the options are. But keeping water out of sewers is clearly going to be a big part, I think, of any solution, but equally the operation and management of sewers. Artificial intelligence and data are growing hugely in scope, and, if you like, sewer networks haven't been managed in the same way as perhaps other networks have. So, again, I think there's huge scope in terms of the technology side as well in terms of getting to smarter networks, and that should offer some fruit for efficient and innovative solutions as well.

10:35

Just to link to the previous points about prevention and what Mark was flagging in terms of the WLGA being part of the taskforce, I think there's an opportunity here as well to get a greater read-across and connection to the wider economic development sphere, and that we make the connections in terms of what's happening in regions, in terms of land use planning, investments. Whether it's infrastructure investment, economic infrastructure, digital infrastructure, I think there is an opportunity for read-across there, and I guess it's something that we should be considering as part of the taskforce. 

Diolch yn fawr iawn. We have 10 minutes left. I know we have at least two more areas of questioning. Huw will be leading on both, so it's over to you, Huw. 

Thank you, Chair, and I hope my broadband stays up. I'm going to rattle through some areas, but I really want to get into some detail on this. In fact, one of them flows from the comments David has just made. We know that there's been a massive increase in the number of spills recorded, and part of that has been driven by the massive increase over the same five-year period in the number of overflows fitted with event duration monitoring. I guess my question is to you, before I come to issues of what action flows from this, because a lot of our focus has been on this, is: data is very powerful; why are we not doing more in terms of data analysis along river courses where we know there's been historic and regular and routine not just sewage incidents but also wider pollution? Why are we not using the technology right here, right now? Why is the regulator not saying to water companies and others, 'Get on with it, do this', or water companies saying it to industries along the line, or NRW saying it to polluters in stretches that we know are problematic and saying, 'We want regular, routine, daily, hourly monitoring'? The technology is there. And do you know what, then? Share it with the public, not just with the regulator. Because it will be interesting to see local authorities, Gwenllian, picking up on this on a regular basis and going, 'What the hell is happening in our rivers?' So, there's my question: the technology is there, David, you're the regulator, are we willing to do that, to make that happen and then to share it, not just with stakeholders, the usual people, but with the public at large in proper, open public science and data sharing?

I think there are a number of elements to that question. I'm very supportive in terms of getting more data, better data, indeed. I think we've got to where we have on storm overflows by getting the monitoring rolled out; it's just about fully rolled out now. But I would agree that information needs to be supplied and shared with the public. I believe that's the approach that Dŵr Cymru is proposing to take. Then, I think obviously Mark can talk more about the monitoring of wastewater treatment works, which is also growing in size and scale.

I think the other point you're making, though, is about rivers and river health more generally. I think I'd be interested in NRW's views here, but I would agree that I think there is much more we can do in terms of that space. We're certainly very supportive in terms of more action on monitoring, because I think it allows you to design a much more effective regulatory regime, certainly in terms of sharing the data.

I think the only additional point I was just going to make is that, for example, on storm overflows, we know the duration and the number of spill incidents, or at least we have data on that now. I think there's not enough known about the harm of those incidents, and I think that's where the clever technology can help us as well. But I think, perhaps, it's more for NRW in terms of the overall monitoring of, say, the health of rivers. So, Mark, you're probably better placed, or Siân, to talk about that.

10:40

Mark and Siân, when you come back, I wonder if you could deal with those two things that flow from David's comments there. One is how much further we can go on data monitoring, not just with CSOs, but generally in terms of river pollution and also the wider quality aspects, and then the sharing of this. Because let's not rely on the woman with her dog walking along the Garw valley to say, 'Bloody hell, what's going on?' We've got technology that can help with this—that's, by the way, not putting aside that part of citizen science that is somebody picking up the phone to NRW and saying, 'What?' We're better than this now, surely. Siân.

I fully accept all of those comments, and it is definitely something that we are very conscious of through the discussions that we've been having, particularly over the last 12 months, because, as we've all seen, there's been a huge increase in the attention and the public awareness of water quality, as I said, particularly over the last 12 months. We've got a meeting next week, as it happens, to assess our next steps in terms of evidence and in terms of where we want to go in NRW for water quality in Wales. One of the things that we were talking about with our board last week is the question around evidence and monitoring, and how we best use evidence. I think there's been a reliance in the past for us to rely on our own evidence and that we would use the monitoring that we do solely, not taking into account potentially things that could be done by others. So, one of the things that we're looking at doing is how we can better use other people's evidence and how we can better use, as you say, the technology and the information and the skills that are out there that don't necessarily sit with NRW. That's a key part of our next steps.

Citizen science, I think, is a really exciting and brilliant opportunity for us to think about how we can use this increased awareness and the increased attention that's been given to water quality, and that ownership that people feel for their local river, to strengthen that to become much more of a partnership approach. Having said that, we don't want to shirk any of our responsibilities. We fully recognise that we are the regulator, that we need to push this forward and that we need to continue on what we're doing, and do better in some cases. But I think it is more thinking around our role, other people's role and how we can bring of those together for Wales to work on this.

Can I just flag, before Mark answers and tails off there, that if we do this—? Because, Siân, what you're saying there gives me some cause for optimism that this is on the table being looked at, being explored, how much further we can go with data, with citizen science playing part of it as well. That raises expectation then that actions will flow, not just enforcement, but on the river basin management plans, that things will be done. So, Mark, where are we, do you think, on this?

Before Mark comes in, it might be worth me describing—. Sorry, Mark. I started a piece of work—. I came offline for a few months to think about how we respond in NRW and how we can bring all of these parts of water quality together. One of the things that we discussed with our board last week is thinking more in terms of a catchment-wide approach—how we can consider the learning, as we talked about earlier, from things like the nutrient management boards, to expand that across other areas in Wales. We have area statements, we have the well-being plans, we have links through to public services boards and great opportunities there to work in partnership with others as well. So, what we're thinking is more around how we can make that connection between some of the things that will need to be resolved on a national basis or maybe through adapting policies, potentially legislation, and thinking then what we can deliver locally, what needs to be done by us in NRW and what needs to be done by others, and how, as I said, we can bring all those things together in a better way that can be explained to people as well. So, where are we now, where are we trying to get to in the future, what are the steps we need to take to get from where we are now to where we want to be, and over what timescale, so that we can be held accountable, and others who have responsibility in that sphere as well.

10:45

I would just add to Huw's point that, in terms of sharing the data, that is the challenge. There is a lot of data. Most of the data from water companies or ourselves is there—the river basin management process that we're going through at the moment, the third cycle. It's joining all those information sources together, and it's something the taskforce is looking at for storm overflows. How do we ensure that we present that with the technology—and there's a vast array that we can use—how do we present it in a way that, to use your analogy, Huw, the lady pushing the pushchair down the riverbank understands the state of the rivers? We've seen that with Surfers Against Sewage and the apps that we've got there. So, in certain areas, we've got technology already, and that's great, and it's building on that, but the challenge is to make sure that we give a consistent message back to people so that the information that is out there in a raw source isn't being used by different sectors or different people coming up with different answers. We need to find ways to make sure that, however we share that data, it's understood and people can get to the conclusions they want in the right way.

A very brief point. This is about looking ahead. I think we should also just take stock and remember the importance of innovation in this space. Clearly, through what we do as a regulator, there's a real focus on innovation to improve efficiency and do things better. I think there are opportunities, because we've got a way of bringing key players together and collaborative approaches. That innovation in this space is really important. And back to my prior point: how can that innovation join up across sectors? You know, where we're looking at roll-out of digital infrastructure, for example, what are the connections in terms of real-time monitoring? So, again, I think there is definitely an opportunity there and very fertile ground to work through that in a Welsh context. 

Chair, we're over time, but do I have time for just a short one to finish off here on the river basin management plans?

Okay. Just very briefly, we'd like, as a committee, an update on when we're going to see publication on the next round of river basin management plans. That's fairly straightforward as an answer. But can I just ask you: what do you feel is the state of play of our river basin management plans? It just strikes me—and tell me if I'm wrong—that they're still very much a work in progress, that the level of engagement, of reach out into the communities affected, into the stakeholders, is not as deep and as profound as it should be, the level of awareness of them is not as high as it should be, there's work to be done. That's not a criticism; it might just be an evolution of them. But surely, these should be reaching out into every part of every community that we represent, because of the importance of these issues, not just in the quality of the river and the occasional discharges that people will spot walking their dogs, but because of the ecology, because of all those other aspects. So, when are they going to be published, the new round? And secondly, what's your assessment of where we stand on them at the moment?

Siân, do you want me to pick this up? In terms of where we stand, the draft western Wales and Dee consultation is closed. The summary consultation was published in September 2021. The river basin will be submitted to Ministers for approval in April 2022 and published in July 2022. The Environment Agency leads on the Severn river basin and that was published as a draft on 22 October 2021, and it's expected that the final document is December 2022. In the draft planning, we've used the interim classification, so 2018. The final river basin classification we used is 2021, which is just out now, so please feel free to promote that and have people look towards our website. The classification shows overall status is 40 per cent—around 933 water bodies are at 'good' or 'better' status. It's an improvement of 3 per cent from that reported in 2015, and an 8 per cent improvement since 2009.

Coming on to your question there, then, Huw, we're starting to look—because that takes us up to 2027, but we're not waiting until 2027—at the effectiveness, in effect, of the river basin planning, and I'll be first to say that it's given us great targets. But, in terms of trying to hit that, I think we set out with 80 per cent as the UK target, and, if we look at how society works and interacts at the moment, there are improvements and there are things we need to tackle to make the river basin management process, if it stands, more attractive and more interactive with the people of Wales. It's been a good process, but, personally—and I think NRW would accept—we need to evolve that process so that it is tying up all these issues around storm overflows, it gives a good indication of the pressures and how we're tackling those pressures. But—you know, we've mentioned this many a time—what we're probably seeing, third cycle and beyond, is that need to be more interactive with all the sectors, with all the players, to actually get those improvements that we need. Because 40 per cent isn't good enough; we need to be moving forward.

10:50

Wel, diolch yn fawr. Mae hwnna—. Hynny yw, symud ymlaen, dyna'r nodyn cadarnhaol ar y diwedd, a diolch ichi, y pedwar ohonoch chi, am eich tystiolaeth bore yma. Mae'r ffaith ein bod ni wedi rhedeg drosodd yn adlewyrchu'r ffaith dwi'n meddwl ein bod ni i gyd yn ffeindio'r dystiolaeth yma'n werthfawr iawn, felly diolch o galon. Mi gewch chi drawsgrifiad o'r cofnod er mwyn sicrhau ei fod e'n gywir, ond, gyda hynny, diolch ichi i gyd. Mi wnawn ni ohirio'r cyfarfod nawr am chwarter awr er mwyn cael egwyl a chael y panel nesaf i mewn. Felly, byddwn ni yn ailymgynnull am 11:05, felly mi wnawn ni oedi'r darllediad. Diolch yn fawr.

Well, thank you very much. Moving forward, that's a positive note to conclude on, and thank you to all four of you for your evidence this morning. The fact that we've run over reflects the fact I think that we all found this evidence very useful, so thank you very much. You will receive a transcript of the record to check for accuracy, but thank you all for your evidence. We will now suspend the meeting for 15 minutes to take a break and bring our next panel in. So, we will reconvene at 11:05. So, we will pause broadcast. Thank you.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:52 ac 11:06.

The meeting adjourned between 10:52 and 11:06.

11:05
3. Ansawdd dŵr a gollyngiadau carthion – sesiwn dystiolaeth 2
3. Water quality and sewage discharges - evidence session 2

Croeso nôl i Bwyllgor Newid Hinsawdd, Amgylchedd a Seilwaith Senedd Cymru. Dŷn ni'n symud ymlaen i'r trydydd eitem ar ein hagenda ni, sef clywed gan yr ail banel fel rhan o'r gwaith dŷn ni'n ei wneud yn edrych ar ansawdd dŵr a gollyngiadau carthion. Mae'n dda gen i groesawu James Jesic, sy'n rheolwr gyfarwyddwr gyda Hafren Dyfrdwy; Eleri Rees, sy'n gyfarwyddwr strategaeth a rheoleiddio gyda Dŵr Cymru; ynghyd â Steve Wilson, sy'n rheolwr gyfarwyddwr gwasanaethau dŵr gwastraff, hefyd o Dŵr Cymru. Croeso i'r tri ohonoch chi o'r ddau gwmni. Mi wnaf i gychwyn efallai, cyn dod at Janet mewn eiliad. Jest rhyw gwestiwn cyffredinol: allwch chi jest ddweud wrthyn ni os ŷch chi yn cytuno bod y lefel o ollwng carthion i ddyfroedd yng Nghymru yn annerbyniol fel ag y mae hi, a bod yna fwy y gellid ei wneud ac yn wir y dylid ei wneud i fynd i'r afael â hynny? Pwy sydd eisiau mynd yn gyntaf? Steve.

Welcome back to this meeting of the Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure Committee at the Senedd. We move on to item 3 on our agenda, our second panel of witnesses as part of our work on water quality and sewage discharges, and I'm pleased to welcome James Jesic, managing director, Hafren Dyfrdwy; Eleri Rees, strategy and regulation director, Welsh Water; and Steve Wilson, managing director waste water services, also from Dŵr Cymru/Welsh Water. A very warm welcome to all three of you from both companies. I'll start, before coming to Janet, with just a general question. Could you just tell us whether you agree that the level of sewage discharge into waters in Wales is unacceptable as things stand and that there is more that can be done and should be done to tackle that? Who'd like to go first? Steve.

If I go first, it's not where we want to be at all. We clearly can see the number of discharges from storm overflows is a really large number, and that's not coming down. With climate change, with urban creep, the amount of surface water we're taking into our sewer network is increasing and that's causing these discharges to increase, and the more monitors we're putting on, the more we're discovering that, and we really care about protecting the environment. We take this role very, very seriously, and we're always sorry if we've done something wrong or that our operations have damaged the environment. So, we're really keen to get to understand what impact these are having and target those that are having the most impact on water quality.

I think from a CSO perspective, combined sewer overflow discharge perspective, the important thing for us is that we are committed to continue to drive performance, improve performance, and accept that there's far more that the water industry can do. However, what we are very conscious of is the question for us, or certainly from our interpretation, really, is: how do we drive up standards around river quality across Wales? Now, we accept and acknowledge that CSOs have got a part to play in that, but, when you consider the accepted measure currently by which that is assessed, and that's rivers not achieving good ecological status, the actual proportion contributed by CSOs is relatively small. And while we need to face into that and make improvements, which we are doing, if I take just the Hafren-Dyfrdwy area alone, which, granted, is a small area, only around 7 per cent of our activities contribute to the RNAG status, and, within that, CSOs are, again, a smaller proportion of that. So, whilst we will strive to improve it, I think there's a broader question for me about how do we build on the work we want to do as a water company and engage with other partners to deliver a much broader impact for river quality across Wales.

Okay, well, we'll come on to that, I'm sure, and many other points over the next hour and a quarter or so. So, we'll move now then to Janet Finch-Saunders.

Thank you, Chairman. Good morning. Now, evidence submitted by both of your organisations has warned about urban creep, saying that there had been a big increase of impermeable areas, with one in four front gardens having been paved over. And I have to say—and I don't mind it going on record—I notice that people now are using this plastic grass, which is—. Why did they invent these things when we're trying to—? Anyway, what research have you undertaken to review how big an impact this macro factor is having on the use of CSOs and what conversations have you undertaken with urban planning authorities to ensure that green spaces, even, and organic soil matter are recognised for the benefits they have and that they're retained to better manage rainfall pressures?

11:10

Yes, shall I go first? Thanks, Janet. It is a big problem for us. Actually, what we can see—and I think Jenny might have mentioned this earlier on—is that new housing stock is built now in Wales with separate systems. So, new housing is not causing as much of a problem as the fact that, actually, I don't need planning permission to put a patio down in my back garden; I don't need planning permission to be able to tarmac my front garden to park a car. And also local authorities, who have a big part to play in this as well, don't need the same permissions to be able to put a car park down, put drainage in and attach it to the sewer network, et cetera. So, what we can see, in the work that we've done looking at water in Cardiff and in Swansea and in Llanelli—all the work we did around RainScape there, is seeing that actually it's the urban creep piece that we're struggling to keep pace with more so than new house building. So, I think, that, for us, is a big challenge. It was mentioned by Mark Squire. In terms of our Wales-wide taskforce to look at better river water quality, we do need the Welsh Local Government Association, the WLGA, to join us in this because they're going to be a key part of helping us solve this problem. 

Thank you. And then I note that your evidence confirms that the removal—

Sorry, Janet. Eleri wanted to come in on this as well before you move on.

I just wanted to reinforce what Steve was saying, that we really do see this as a critical part of the solution to the contribution that water companies make to river water quality. In fact, we've got a performance target for this five-year period up until 2025 to remove some 862,000 cu m of surface water from our networks in order to help achieve that. But, as Steve says, this isn't something that water companies can do alone; we must work with partners, including local authorities, in order to achieve that in the most efficient way.

Thank you. I think it's important—and I'm sure the whole committee is aware of this—that the purpose of a combined sewer overflow is effectively to act as a pressure relief valve on the network, and that is needed because there are a whole heap of surface water connections that connect into our sewer system, and that's a legacy that we've been dealing with for many, many decades. I think what we're seeing at the moment is not only urban creep, but that is being compounded by climate change. We are seeing much more frequent extreme rainfall events, and, as you can imagine, where we are seeing urban creep combined with extreme rainfall events, the pressure that that is putting on the networks is just increasing. 

I think, in terms of the point about how do we raise awareness, I think it's really, really valid. It's also really difficult. What we don't want to be are companies that, effectively, are dictating to the general public about what they can and can't do around their home. It's your right as an individual to do what you want to do. So, we do need to think about how we get better surface water separation, better surface water containment, across parts of Wales to really help with this particular issue. I'm sure you may be aware, but, as the parent company I work for, Severn Trent, we're currently undertaking quite an extensive piece of work up in the Mansfield area, up in the Nottinghamshire area, and that is looking at how we create green/blue solutions to really contribute towards surface water containment. At Hafren, we're thinking about how we take that thinking further as part of our—[Inaudible.]—solutions, particularly in parts of the Powys area, obviously—whereby we can contribute to reducing the surface water issue. But, again, I think if we can get a multi-agency approach to this, we will deliver much bigger bang for the buck.

11:15

Okay. There are a few hands going up now, Janet, forgive me. So, Jenny first of all, then Delyth, and then we'll come back to you, Janet, then.

Okay. I just wanted to challenge you on this business of climate change. We talk a lot about flooding, and that's absolutely right, but if you look at the global picture, water is the new gold, and yet you companies are allowing—. It's like flushing £50 notes down the drain, your failure to husband the water resources and the run-off from the rain that you could be selling to the east side of England, where they have a massive water problem, in terms of maintaining the sort of agriculture they've been doing for lots of years.

Shall we hear from Delyth as well? And then I'll ask you to pick up on both points then.

Diolch, Llyr. Sorry, sound technician—I always do that.

James, you may not, as companies, feel that it's your place to be telling residents what they should and shouldn't be putting up in their homes, but do you think that the Government should be, in terms of what we were hearing about earlier, in terms of—[Inaudible.]—planning? You don't need to get planning permission to tarmac places, with plastic grass, and things like that. Do you think that someone at least—Government—should be intervening more in this?

Okay, directly on that, then, James, first of all, and then we'll pick up on Jenny's point.

It's a really interesting question, and it's not for me to give an opinion, really, on what the Welsh Government should or shouldn't be dictating. I think, from my perspective, the thought processes I had is: how do we, collectively, firstly make people aware, so people are making a more conscious decision in and around the home, and understanding the implications of that? But then, secondly, how do we think more broadly about the other options available? We've seen it already with new housing developments, so I think it's: how do we get to a place whereby we can retrofit solutions, potentially, which, in many aspects, particularly if we're go down green/blue—? Green/blue solution routes can be attractive solutions that actually improve the amenity value of a local area as well as improving surface-water run-off. I think that, for me, is: how do we broach that? And there might be some discussions there from a planning perspective with the Welsh Government.

Okay, so what about Jenny's point then about flushing money down the toilet? Eleri.

I'm happy to come back on that. I absolutely agree that, by removing surface water from our networks, we have multiple benefits. It reduces the overflow from CSOs that goes into rivers, but it also means that we have less strain on our natural resources, and that full cyclical investment means that you're getting much better results all round, and therefore it is a core part of what we see as a solution to multiple problems.

So, my other point was that I noticed that the evidence confirms that the removal of all CSOs could cost between £9 billion and £14 billion, with that burden passed on to the consumer, thereby increasing their water bills by hundreds of pounds, which, with energy costs, it's like, lordy. But what research have your companies undertaken to review how best to implement a long-term adaptation plan, given you have a stake in that the carbon-intensive installation of large concrete storage tanks is perhaps not a sustainable solution?

Thanks. Yes, the figures for removing all the storm overflows is just an eye-wateringly large number. But I think we've based that £9 billion to £14 billion on a lot of the experience we've put in, in terms of the schemes we've been doing, removing surface water, reducing storm overflows in the Burry inlet around Llanelli, the work that we've done in Cardiff around Greener Grangetown, but also in your constituency. As you know, there's a lot of work going on up in Llandudno, trying to improve the upper reaches of the Conwy. So, our costing is based on the real examples of what we've put in the ground, and I know James has mentioned his project in Mansfield—that's very similar to what we've done in Llanelli.

What we do need to do to help with this is the greener infrastructure, the nature-based solutions here. The more planters, the more swales, the more green infrastructure we can put in place, actually, that is not only more climate-change proof, because what we have seen as we've measured this in Llanelli over the number of years now that they've been in place is that the warmer, wetter weather we're seeing, that green infrastructure is taking more water out each year, whereas if I build a concrete box or a bigger pipe, the capacity is fixed, and I've used all that carbon in getting the concrete there in the first place. So, we're really pushing hard for more nature-based solutions, but our regulators need to work with us on that, because we all know that they take time to mature.

If we want certainty and we want quick results, the quickest way for water companies to act is to build bigger pipes and that kind of stuff, whereas actually, how do you recognise that if we put in a great big reed bed, or a planted wetland, it might take two or three or four years for that to mature and have real results? So, these are the things that we're exploring at the moment with our regulators, to say, 'Come on, we need to do more in this space', and we've got some exciting projects already planned in this five-year period around tackling some of the storm overflows using nature-based approaches.

11:20

So, the suggestion implicit in your answer there is that, currently, the regulator isn’t maybe looking to move at the same pace as you would like on that front.

If I just come back there quickly, and Eleri might want to add to this, I think we need more natural capital accounting approaches. Part of the problem here is if we just go for a straight, 'What's the cheapest solution to put in the ground?'—and particularly Ofwat are policing us very much from an economic point of view—but if we can go down that natural capital accounting route, and we look at the biodiversity benefits, then I'm sure more of these projects will work. Also, if we work in partnership with the local authority, we've got some really enlightened local authorities in our area, Cardiff being a great example. Cardiff do a great job in seeing the benefit here, and there's a new project going on in Cardiff at the moment, opening up one of the old canals that's been covered over. Actually, we're working with them there, because that can help us remove surface water from the sewer as well. So, if we work in partnership, we can drive the cost down, but also we need that approach around taking the whole natural capital accounting as well.

Before I bring Eleri in, then, Huw, you just wanted to pick up on something as well.

Yes, thank you, Chair. Steve, I wonder if I can ask you to go a bit further on this. Natural capital accounting has been around for at least two decades. Fifteen years ago I was sitting down with people like Dieter Helm, talking through this and how this needed to be part of it, to drive the right sort of investment and the right sort of infrastructure in housing development building. Sustainable drainage systems have been on the statute book on an England-and-Wales basis since 2009. I was the Minister who took them through. Why are we so slow? I get the idea, I get what you're saying, that it takes a bit of time, but 12, 13—? We've got a nature crisis going on. Sorry, this isn't a criticism of you, but I'm asking you to tell us why it is taking so long and why we are still getting the same things saying, 'We're not quite there yet.'

I can come in to deal with that. I agree with you, Huw, that the practical application of multicapital accounting is problematic, and it's not just the water sector that hasn't yet got to grips with a practical application that means that this is a straightforward system to operate and come up with the right answer. But I think we're in a much better place where, for investments coming up, we're now taking a view where we're putting a value on carbon, we're putting a value on the biodiversity benefit that the scheme will create, in order to present a fully embedded picture of what a scheme will do. So, moving away from that old-fashioned cost-benefit analysis to including those wider benefits in a straightforward way, so that we are then prioritising with our regulator the investments that make the right sense for the environment in full, meeting our targets on renewables policy and on carbon. We're committed to bringing those carbon emissions down to zero by 2040, a reduction of 90 per cent by 2030, and therefore we have to embrace these schemes rapidly in order to be able to achieve both those targets and our renewables policy targets.

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Okay. Sorry, Janet, back to you, then.

Oh, yes, I'm on question 2 now. Sorry. I do beg your pardon.

I'm on question 2. Sorry. I wasn't sure whether I had two, but I have. Right. I know NRW have told us that 32 sites—now, this is about identifying discharges—have been rectified, and 37 are to be worked on in the current period of water company investment, 2020-25. Can you therefore provide more information about the investment undertaken to improve the monitoring of these combined sewer overflows, including by electronic means? And given that your evidence touched on the need to share best practice, and that NRW states that the increase in spills each year is the result of an increased number of event and duration monitors, how can we be satisfied that the right reactions are now being implemented as a result of this data collected?

11:25

Yes, I'm happy to. If I may, Janet, I'm just going to build a little bit on your prior question as well, if that's okay, the reason being is I think your point about affordability and the challenges that people are facing today with the energy inflation that we're seeing as well is a very real one. Now, Hafren Dyfrdwy, we are only a small company. In terms of waste water provision, we do serve only the Powys area, and we're looking at around 20,000 properties in that particular area. Now, our customers actually enjoy the lowest bills across the whole of England and Wales—we're some £100 cheaper in this country—notwithstanding we recognise that we also serve, perhaps, some of the most deprived areas of Wales as well. So, we are very conscious of the impact of further investment.

Notwithstanding that, what we're doing in this next five-year period, which comes on to your second question, is we're investing around £17 million. In the scheme of things, particularly on the scale of some of the larger water companies, that doesn't sound very much, but that's over £200 per connected property, and that's across our whole customer base, in terms of improving the natural environment, improving our waste treatment service and our overall offering. Within that, what we're looking to do is we've got monitoring across all of our CSOs, we monitor those regularly, and anywhere where we think there's a high spill rate, our bigger issues, we look at and understand how we can prioritise further activity in there. 

But, what we're really focused on—and this comes back to your multibillion-pound point again earlier on—is how do we achieve the removal of rivers not achieving good status. That, for us, is the goal. Whilst we could go after reducing and removing CSOs—that is an important facet of it—but, for us, the key, really, is how do we get the rivers to good ecological status. So, by 2030, our plan is, along with all the monitoring that we have and all the enhancements that we're undertaking on our waste network and to our waste treatment works, we will be in a position whereby we believe there will be zero reasons for a river not achieving good status caused by our activities, and that's the approach we're taking. 

Sorry, James, what was the figure you quoted at the start there in terms of the amount of investment? 

Seventeen million. One seven. 

So, over the next—. This asset management plan period, so 2020-25.

Okay, so that's equivalent to what your paid your chief executive in the last six or seven years. 

I don't know the specific details of that amount, but just in terms of—

You said it didn't sound much. It certainly isn't much in comparison to that, is it, really? 

What we're talking about is Hafren Dyfrdwy, and that as its own entity, so Liv works for Severn Trent plc. This is about Hafren Dyfrdwy. I guess as the managing director for Hafren Dyfrdwy, I'm certainly nowhere near that—I can promise you that.

What we are about is how do we really improve the local natural environment, how do we work on that basis. The company doesn't make a profit at the moment. We invest everything that we get back into improving our overall service.

Okay, thank you. Steve, and I think Jenny wanted to come in as well, but Steve first of all. 

Thanks. So, if I pick up on the EDM point, by quirks of history, geography, economics, we've got more CSOs in our operating area per 1,000 km of sewer than any other water company. So, that's a tricky starting point when we're looking at CSOs. Nonetheless, we embarked with our regulators on a programme slightly ahead of England, in terms of trying to get monitors on every one of those. This year, we'll be reporting on 99 per cent. Last year, it was 98 per cent; we're up to 99 per cent. The last few, actually, we've got some real tricky ones from a safety point of view that, actually, we might have to re-engineer them to be able to even get a monitor to them. But, we're at 99 per cent. And what we're trying to do with that data is use that to help us decide which are the ones we need to start targeting, and use, as James has said, from a water quality perspective. So, we have this process, I think it was mentioned by NRW, the SOAF process, where basically we go about doing environmental investigations around those CSOs, and we've got 400 of those under way at this moment in time, to try and look at water quality impact. 

As James has said, the data from the river monitoring in Wales, water framework directive—the reasons for not achieving good status, waste water company operations, you know water company operations, in Wales account for about 20 per cent of the problems for not achieving 'good'. Just to give you some examples, I think it's about 27 per cent for agriculture, it's still about 15 per cent for the legacy from mining et cetera. The storm overflow piece, the CSO piece, is less than 10 per cent of the impact in that area.

We've been doing this sort of apportionment work on the River Wye. It's been touched on a few times and in our evidence. We're doing modelling work on the Usk, on the Dee, the Cleddau, the Teifi. We've got the data for the River Wye, and storm overflows are 2 per cent of the problem on the River Wye. Between 20 per cent in the upper reaches and nearly 30 per cent in the lower reaches of the Wye—it's sewage treatment works discharges. And we've got a programme there of spending £60 million on upgrading 11 treatment works on the River Wye to take even more phosphorus, even more nutrients out of there.

We're spending £110 million in this five-year period on some of those storm overflows. The ones that Janet raised—the ones that NRW have flagged there—that's that programme of tackling those worst CSOs, and we do it on the basis of, 'Do they spill a lot and have they got a big environmental impact?', and we'll go for the ones with the environmental impact because, just as James has said, we're all about trying to improve the kilometers of river in Wales. That's our goal and we are all striving to try and get that water company impact as absolutely low as we possibly can.

11:30

Sticking with Dŵr Cymru, and I'll come to Hafren in a minute, I think I heard the previous witnesses say that you're obliged to report unregulated overflows, and you do so now in about 80 per cent of cases. That's what I understood them to say. So, I wondered if you could tell me if that's accurate and why you don't comply in the other 20 per cent? Because obviously there's money involved for you.

I can assure you that there are no financial targets that we're being driven by here. There are two things here, Jenny. One is the self-reporting of pollution incidents, and that 80 per cent is what we've been scoring over the last couple of years. Mark Squire was absolutely right, you go back 10 years ago, we were only self-reporting probably 20 per cent of those pollutions. We're up around the 80 per cent. Why not 100 per cent? Well, actually, what that is, we've still got miles of sewers running along river banks or in the banks or close to rivers in farmland, and occasionally if we get these blockages that we've talked about, wet wipes et cetera, and it comes out of a manhole chamber, we haven't got telemetry in every one of those millions of manhole chambers, and if a dog walker or a farmer or somebody spots that, if they phone us first, we'll go to it and we'll self-report that back to NRW, but if they call NRW first, then that's not self-reported. And that's where we're at.

But every year, we scrutinise those pollution incidents that we did not self-report and challenge ourselves, and NRW challenge us quite hard as well: 'Could you have actually reported that?' Because it's our company vision to earn the trust of our customers every day, and this is one of these areas that I'm absolutely passionate about, that we'll be as open and transparent as we can with that kind of data. That's our starting point. 

Around EDM monitoring, we report the 99 per cent of those CSOs where we've got monitors every year, but there's a point, I think, which we need to maybe touch on later on, about how we need to expand that even more, that reporting.

Yes, I just wanted to make the point around targets on pollution. We're actually meeting and were ahead of our targets for last year on the number of pollution incidents, and driving each year to reduce that number even further. And on kilometres of river improved, we've got a target of 418 for the AMP that we're looking to exceed; we're planning to exceed that number for this AMP, to go further than we've committed to. 

11:35

So, how much has the installation of the event and duration monitors on nearly all your areas where there is potential for storm overflows—? How much has that driven your much improved self-reporting?

It's had quite a big impact. Having lots of storm overflows, then, quite frankly, you've got lots of places where pollution can come from. So, having a monitor on that really helps. At the moment, we are the best in the industry for the lowest number of pollution incidents per 100 treatment works, or per 100 pumping stations. Our Achilles heel, for us, is still our sewer network, and blockages on the sewer network, which we find hard to spot. And that's the area we've got to really focus more on. But in terms of assets where we have telemetry—you know, a pumping station, a treatment works, a storm overflow—we're in a really good place. 

Thank you, Jenny. We've only got a small number of CSOs—we've got 50 CSOs across our network. And how we measure the performance of those—they're all monitored, there's data available; I'm quite happy to send people a link because we do make that data available. But, effectively, what we have in place, as all water companies will have, is they're alarmed, and whenever they discharge to the environment when they shouldn't be, that is effectively categorised as a pollution. Now, what Natural Resources Wales—and forgive me if I'm teaching you things that you already know—will do is classify each of those pollutions based on their impact, and that ranges from 4, which is the least serious, up to serious pollution 1, category 1, which basically means there's been some quite significant environmental impact. 

During the last 10 years, Hafren Dyfrdwy, in its new guise, and in its previous guise, has had zero serious pollutions, so that's the most serious of the categories, 1 or 2. And in the last three years, we've had 11 category 3 pollutions, but only two of which came from CSOs, and those CSOs have been dealt with and we've undertaken the activity in those particular areas. In most instances, further to what Steve was saying, we do find that discharge from those points are generally caused by misuse. So, that could be people putting the wrong things down the toilets cistern, for instance, such as wipes, or commercial food establishments discharging fat, oil and grease into the network. So, those are the things that we're trying to work on, and, as a result, we've got quite an extensive customer education programme. We visit lots of schools, we target commercial service establishments, because what we tend to find is people generally don't realise it's the wrong thing to do, and with some conversation, with some education, people very quickly try and adapt their behaviours. The challenge, of course, is getting around so many people and having that one-to-one conversation to get people to change their behaviours, and it is a very time-consuming, tricky thing to do. And that's where we're always looking for support. 

Huw wants to come in, and then we'll progress as Joyce can take us on to our next area of questioning. But Huw first. 

Okay. There we are. Thank you for that. Joyce, then, on to you.