Wales ‘not yet sustainably managing its water’, says Welsh government

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Welsh government has launched its second statutory consultation on the Water Framework Directive, aimed at finding a solution for the "significant water management issues" identified across the country.

Response to the six-month consultation, which closes in December, will feed into the third River Basin Management Plans and the next State of Natural Resources Report (SoNaRR) required under the Environment Act, according to Natural Resources Wales (NRW). 

The consultation document noted that while the latest SoNaRR had set out some of the progress that has been made to improve water quality and connectivity of rivers in Wales over the last 25 years, it concluded that the country was not yet achieving sustainable management of water.

The document sets out a number of challenges to overcome, including “population growth, climate change and challenging economic times”.

Across Wales the document finds that the five main issues are physical modifications to existing water bodies, pollution from sewage and wastewater, pollution from towns, cities and transport, pollution from rural areas, and pollution from mines. 

“As the population grows and the effects of climate change increases, the pressure to physically modify water bodies in the future is likely to increase as we protect ourselves and our homes from increased risk of flooding and droughts,” notes the document. “These modifications need to be undertaken in an environmentally sensitive way within the constraints of technical feasibility and costs and help improve our resilience to other pressures including climate change, recreation and fishing,” it added.

NRW also notes that diffuse pollution from rural areas causes failures in approximately 129 water bodies. Of these 113 failures are from farming and 16 are from forestry. Preventing and reducing pollution from rural areas will benefit the water environment, both for people and wildlife, it said.

In addition, the regulator noted that contaminated groundwater from abandoned mines “is a major problem in Wales”. These mine water discharges are often contaminated with dissolved metals such as iron, lead, copper, zinc and cadmium which discharge into adjacent rivers and subsequently to estuarine and coastal waters. 

The Coal Authority currently operates 74 mine water schemes at abandoned coal mines using funding from the Department of Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) across England, Wales and Scotland. 15 of these are in Wales. “These schemes must continue to operate to prevent deterioration in rivers and groundwater,” said NRW.

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