Tough and urgent action is needed to prevent water companies from pumping sewage into Wales’ waterways, the Senedd heard.
Janet Finch-Saunders told the chamber there were 83,000 spills in 2022, accounting for around 25% of all discharges in England and Wales.
The Conservative MS for Aberconwy said Wales has some of the most polluted rivers, including the Teifi, Usk, Wye, Tywi, Taff and the Menai strait.
She told MSs that Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water customers are meanwhile footing the second highest average bills in Wales and England at £499 a year.
The shadow climate change minister criticised oversight from Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and the Welsh Government.
She told the Senedd that Dŵr Cymru was fined for only 1% of permit breaches investigated in the past five years.
“We need to impose legally binding targets on Dŵr Cymru and Natural Resources Wales to improve our overflows,” she said.
Ms Finch-Saunders welcomed Dŵr Cymru’s five-year plan which commits to investing nearly £1.9 billion in the environment – an 84% increase on the five years prior.
She also recognised that Dŵr Cymru’s proposed increase in bills between 2025 and 2030 is below the average sector price.
Delyth Jewell, her Plaid Cymru counterpart, raised concerns about NRW’s limited resources, saying: “NRW is expected to take legal action to hold these companies accountable.
“A lack of resources and capacity within that body could lead to delays or insufficient enforcement action being taken.”
The South Wales East MS also raised concerns about Dŵr Cymru awarding performance-related bonuses to three chief executives over the past two years.
The chief executive was paid a total remuneration package of £675,000 last year, the Senedd heard.
Ms Jewell told MSs: “We must ask whether it is appropriate that such executive officers receive bonus payments in these circumstances.”
Plaid Cymru’s deputy leader reiterated her party’s calls for the establishment of an environmental body to fill what she described as a dangerous governance gap.
She said: “Wales is the only nation in the United Kingdom at present that hasn’t established permanent environmental governance statutes following Brexit.
“The interim arrangements are clearly insufficient.”
Conservative Paul Davies also raised concerns about enforcement, saying: “There is evidence that this has been knowingly done for years.
“Clearly, enforcement notices have not been a sufficient enough penalty for water polluters – tougher action is needed and needed quickly.”
Adam Price highlighted that regulator Ofwat has rated Dŵr Cymru as one of the worst-performing water companies for two years in a row.
He said: “I put it to you that this isn't a company run in the interests of the people of Wales, according to its charter; it's increasingly being run in the interests of its management….
“This Senedd has the power to bring Welsh water into public ownership.
“With no shareholders to compensate, it wouldn't cost the public anything and we would, at long last, have a water company here in Wales that was directly accountable to the people.”
Peter Fox, the Conservative MS for Monmouth, told MSs that E.coli levels in the River Usk are nearly 300 times higher than minimum bathing standards.
“This Welsh Government rightly raises concerns surrounding the climate emergency,” said the former Monmouthshire Council leader. “However, its failure to acknowledge a biodiversity and ecological emergency is severely damaging.”
Jane Dodds, leader of the Lib Dems in Wales, called for an urgent review of Dŵr Cymru, saying: “It seems from what we're hearing this afternoon that there is cross-party agreement for a review of Dŵr Cymru. They are not performing to the level that we need them to.”
Julie James, the minister for climate change, raised the role of sectors such as house building and agriculture during the Conservative debate on Wednesday November 8.
She told MSs that agricultural pollution – not waste water – is the leading contributor of phosphates in many rivers.
The minister said: “In typical deregulatory fashion, the UK Conservatives, of course, propose that they will relieve the impact of water pollution by removing the neutrality rules, allowing higher levels of pollution in areas where severe problems already exist.”
The Conservative motion, as well as Plaid Cymru and Welsh Government amendments, were voted down by the Senedd.