Waters at Welsh bathing spot still described as being 'abnormal'

-Credit: (Image: WalesOnline/Rob Browne)
-Credit: (Image: WalesOnline/Rob Browne)

Residents living close to a popular Welsh bathing spot say they have been left angry and frustrated after a pollution incident which led to warnings for people to stay out of the water.

Bathing waters near Ogmore-by-Sea and the River Ogmore have been classified as "abnormal" by Natural Resources Wales over the past two weeks, following fears of a leak from the nearby Penybont Wastewater Treatment Works.

While representatives from Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water initially thought the pollution could have been the result of a leak from the site, they have since said "no leaks or significant faults have been found" after further investigations which were said to be inconclusive with the source of contamination also not discovered.

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However, an update on the Natural Resources Wales website still describes the water in the area as having "potential contamination by sewage" with signs placed on the beach to notify people of pollution in the river.

It has led to a number of concerns from residents who live nearby as they say a solution has to be found in order to safeguard both themselves and the local environment.

Mark Ryan is the chairman of the Ogmore Angling Association which has more than 300 members who regularly use the waters for fishing. He said: "We've got a considerable amount of people wanting to use the beaches and rivers here and we are concerned on a number of different levels.

"We're concerned for the kids coming here to swim, as well as our members from the angling association and anyone who uses the waters for leisure purposes. We usually have a good take on where the river is and unfortunately at the moment it's in a sad state of repair.

"People are angry with sewage being discharged here, and we're worried that the pollution will settle at the bottom and choke the river. It's so popular here for anglers, swimmers and surfers, and it's such a shame as we're coming into the prime season now and it couldn't be in a worse state. It's caused a lot of frustration and anger as we want to see something done."

Mike Ellams is a marine conservationist who added that these sorts of incidents not only impacted on people who used the waters for leisure, but could also devastate the local environment as well. He said: "We go into the beaches or rivers for our entertainment but we don't necessarily have to, and my biggest concern is for the creatures that live in these waters that are having to cope with our human waste every day.

"Obviously we want the bathing water to be good for people to swim in but my main fears are for the environment because if the ocean dies we die, and these sort of sewage leaks can have a devastating impact once the toxins get in to the food chain. It really effects everything and local people are very cross because they don't know what's in the water. I think we need people to think outside of the box when it comes to what we're doing with our sewage in the future and something fundamentally needs to change because at the moment its clearly not working."

Chief executive of Bridgend Council, Mark Shephard, said the incident had caused concern to a number of local communities. He said: "Communities in both Bridgend County Borough and the Vale of Glamorgan remain rightly concerned about the quality of water in local rivers and at popular beaches, and require urgent reassurances about the potential impact upon public health as well as the local environment.

"As a council, we have been liaising with Dwr Cymru on this matter for some time now, and earlier this week, the council leader and I met with senior managers at the Penybont wastewater treatment works near Ogmore-by-Sea to find out more about the current issue. Given the intense levels of concern, we have invited a representative from Dwr Cymru to attend the next meeting of full council where they can outline the issue in greater detail, and confirm what actions are being taken to mitigate the effects and prevent it from reoccurring."

Despite claims from members of the public of sludge as well as grey and murky water spotted in the river, a spokesperson from Welsh Water said there had been no leaks found. They said: "Following over 1,200 work hours of detailed investigations, analysis, trial holes, CCTV inspections, and 3D scanning of pipes and tanks, no leaks or significant faults have been found at the site and associated assets and drainage connected to the site.

"Furthermore, extensive dye testing – where dye is put into the wastewater to trace it through the process and to pinpoint leaks – has not identified any leaks within the pipework or tanks on site or along the sewer network connected to the site. Over 1,000 pots of dye have been used over the course of our investigation but it should be noted that this dye does not have any impact on the environment.

"Dye has been observed leaving the discharge point from the works – i.e. where treated wastewater is discharged via an outfall to river Ogmore – and a faint discolouration was observed reaching the channel where the pollution incident was initially reported. This seems to be due to the incoming tide driving river water up into the channel and thus carrying over the dye and potentially silt from the riverbed. The wastewater treatment works is operating and discharging as normal and compliant with its permits.

"Our initial identification of a potential leak on site was later established to be a ground water pipe unrelated to our treatment works or sewer network. No further evidence of a leak has been identified.

"Our examination of the "sludge" in the channel where the pollution incident was reported is not consistent with the microbiology of our biological process at the wastewater treatment plant. Therefore, we do not have evidence to pinpoint this material back to our treatment plant. Since we cannot find a route from our assets into the channel, the source of the pollution and our investigations remain inconclusive and we will continue to work with Natural Resources Wales."

Fiona Hourahine, operations manager for Natural Resources Wales added: "We’re continuing our investigation of the pollution incident on the River Ogmore that could be impacting water quality at the Ogmore-by-Sea designated bathing water.

"Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water’s investigations at the Penybont wastewater treatment works have been inconclusive and the source of the pollution has not been identified. Our officers have been assessing the environmental impact by taking regular water samples from the river and bathing water.

"We are waiting for the results from samples taken last week. If these show no issue with water quality, we will likely remove the abnormal situation at the Ogmore-by-Sea bathing water. We will continue working with Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water to try and identify what happened and monitor the area for further pollution." For the latest Bridgend news sign up to our newsletter here.