CHESTER Residents’ Associations Group (CRAG) hosted Dŵr Cymru (Welsh Water) earlier this month as the water company gave a presentation about pollution in the River Dee and preventing blocked pipes.

CRAG’s first meeting of 2024 saw Welsh Water’s River Quality Liaison Manager for North Wales, Emily Payne, explain more about the company’s wider work and its planned investment in the River Dee’s storm and sewage overflow systems.

Proposed Chester-city specific investment includes £2.3M for Chester Wastewater Treatment Works and £7.6M investment in the Chester Network, with a wider investment programme of £1.5BN by 2030.

Since 2001, Welsh Water has been a not-for-profit company, with no shareholders. This differentiates it from all other water companies operating in England and Wales. The company say all profits are reinvested back into the business or into customer services, or to reduce customer bills. To date, around £450M has been reinvested in such ways.

The River Dee is one of the most regulated rivers in Europe, supplying more water for public supply than the whole of the Lake District and two-thirds of the river’s water is abstracted before the Dee reaches the weir at Chester. 

The CRAG audience was keen to learn more about what is discharged into the Dee – both the treated effluent and storm effluent – and why, and how residents can help.

Welsh Water has a number of ongoing campaigns such as ‘Let’s Stop the Block’ with wet wipes being the biggest cause of blockages. So, the advice to residents was that only the three Ps – pee, poo and paper should be flushed, with anything else – so wipes cotton buds and sanitary products – to go in the bin. Likewise, when cooking, oil and grease should be disposed of in the bin, rather than being poured in the sink.

Mike Hogg, chair of CRAG said: “CRAG is delighted to welcome Welsh Water to our first meeting of 2024 so that Chester residents can engage with them directly as a key stakeholder on a topical subject. The River Dee is one of our city’s greatest natural assets and critical to its heritage and future.”

Emily Payne, said: “We’re delighted to have been invited by CRAG to explain to residents more about the work that Welsh Water does. The significant investment being made in Chester will improve the capacity for stormflow storage and our recently launched storm overflow map will now provide near real-time information for a number of local assets, with more to be added between now and the end of the year.”

Chester and District Standard: Images of Welsh Water extensive works undertaken on White Friars by specialist contractor Eric Wright Water.Images of Welsh Water extensive works undertaken on White Friars by specialist contractor Eric Wright Water. (Image: CRAG)

White Friars Residents’ Association (WFRA) – one of CRAG’s founding member organisations – has recent and first-hand experience of the work that Welsh Water does, it having identified a collapsed and blocked historic sewer beneath the highway. The narrow, cobbled street, which is made up entirely of listed buildings, had to be closed for over 7 months from May 2023 to both vehicle and pedestrian traffic so that the repair could be undertaken safely.

Welsh Water Project Manager, Andrew Derbyshire, said: “The Victorian sewer had a channel carved directly into the sandstone bedrock with a brick arch constructed over the top. Following a CCTV survey, we found that the top of the sewer had collapsed with bricks, and a 70cm fatberg, blocking the pipe.

“Normally repairs like this would only take a couple of weeks, but due to close proximity to properties, the depth of the excavations and the addition of gas, electricity and phone cables, as well as water services in the area, this was an extremely challenging project for us. As well as challenging ground conditions and a sizeable void, we had to be extra careful with dust, noise and vibrations from our work being in such close proximity to residents’ homes.”

WFRA secretary, Vanessa Bond said: “Residents were both understanding and supportive of the work by both Welsh Water and Eric Wright Water and good communication was critical to the process. Whilst the project was very challenging it was also interesting at times, with teeth and bones being found – although an archaeology assessment confirmed them to be animal, rather than human!

Specialist contractor, Eric Wright Water – another not-for-profit company – undertook the extensive works which included 500 setts being removed, numbered and stored until completion of the repair, following which they were reinstated, before White Friars reopened in November 2023.