The Victorian sewer handles both rainwater and sewage but reaches capacity during storm conditions which is why Welsh Water is allowed to discharge into the Dee at the historic Groves to prevent backups.
He said: “People in Chester who follow local social media activity will recall images and video from September, which showed sanitary products, excrement and detritus floating in the river. It turns out that this discharge was undertaken by Welsh Water, with the permission of the Environment Agency.”
At times of high capacity, overflows like the one at The Groves are used to release pressure in the system. Welsh Water stresses the discharges are ‘heavily diluted’ and perfectly lawful. By 2020, the company will be required to have installed an event duration monitor at The Groves site to provide an annual report on the number and duration of these discharges.
Mr Matheson has just received a letter from the Environment Agency in which it confirmed overflow sewerage had been pumped into the Dee at The Groves at least four times in 2017.
The MP commented: “Where is the government’s strategy for dealing with privatised water companies who are dumping sewage into our nation’s network of fresh water rivers? In a letter to me this week, the Environment Agency suggested that there would be a significant cost to upgrading Chester’s sewerage system in order to solve this problem.
“But as I pointed out to them in an earlier letter, I thought the argument for privatisation of utility services was that these companies would be able to raise money on the capital markets to fund infrastructure improvements – this hasn’t happened, so it would seem that such plans have basically gone down the toilet.
“The Environment Agency seems to think that pumping this raw sewage into the Dee is acceptable, I don’t believe it is. The water companies can pay up for new sewers or else.”
Open water swimmer Barry Johnston from King Street, Chester, first exposed the sewage discharge after arriving for a dip in the Dee early one Saturday but quickly changed his mind.
He smelled the stench and heard the sound of churning pumps as excrement, toilet paper and sanitary products floated out on to the water surface near the Boathouse pub.
A qualified environmental scientist, Mr Johnston told The Chronicle: “They say they can’t afford it but if it was spread over the coming century it might be affordable.”
Mr Johnston, a PhD student at the University of Manchester, believes regulators need to get tough to force change.
In the short run, he demands information about sewage discharges is made available to river users.