Edinburgh Evening News

Claim regulator failing to tackle sewage in the Water of Leith

Campaigner­s worried about health risk, finds Jolene Campbell

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A local campaign group has warned that Scotland’s environmen­tal regulator is failing to tackle sewage pollution in the Water of Leith.

It comes as new figures show more than 2,000 complaints about sewage in Scotland’s rivers, lochs and beaches were made to the Scottish Environmen­tal Protection Agency (SEPA) between 2019 and 2023.

Dozens of reports about sewage spills were made in every region of the country – with the areas in and around Edinburgh and Glasgow seeing the most complaints.

There is growing anger among campaigner­s that water companies are allowed to discharge sewage via “combined sewer overflows” (CSOs) during periods of heavy rain.

Save Our Shore Leith (SOSLeith) said the country’s regulator must urgently investigat­e whether material getting discharged along with treated sewage poses a risk to human health.

Dr Jim Jarvie from the campaign group said: “Leith is one of the most densely populated areas of the country. For over two years, our community action group supported by the Environmen­tal Rights Centre for Scotland (ERCS), has been fighting against the longstandi­ng sewage pollution in the Water of Leith discharged from combined sewer overflows.”

Dr Jarvie, who lives near The Shore, added: “We know an additional 65 CSOs lie upstream along the Water of Leith. These are dischargin­g sewage along the entire waterway which passes through private gardens, public parks and iconic places such as Dean Village towards The Shore. What worries us here is that the sewage discharges into silt, and that has been building up for around 60 years. They need to test it to see if there is a risk to human health from sewage related bacteria then get a plan for what is going to be done about it.”

In the first nine months of 2019, there were 1,048 complaints to SEPA about sewage in Scotland’s rivers, according to data first obtained by a Freedom of Informatio­n (FOI) request.

Between July 2022 and September 2023, another 1,051 complaints were logged by the environmen­tal regulator across Scotland’s nine regions.

The Edinburgh, Lothian and Borders region saw the highest number of complaints by members of the public and concerned organisati­ons – with 262 reports made in the period between July 2022 and September 2023.

SEPA was hit by a cyber attack in 2020, which means the body is unable to provide the same kind of data for the period between January 2020 and June 2022.

The regulator said it could not provide any data on the number of complaints it investigat­ed but it decided whether to probe local issues on a caseby-case basis.

Meanwhile, only 10 per cent of more than 3,600 sewage overflow sites across Scotland are actually monitored by Scottish Water, sparking frustratio­n from environmen­tal groups that the scale of the problem is not clear.

The SOSLeith group has funded independen­t water sampling, which confirmed faecal contaminat­ion in the Water of Leith.

Dr Jarvie added: “We need to see evidence of monitoring sewage discharges but they have refused to investigat­e. We were recently told by SEPA the cost of upgrading CSOs at the Water of Leith basins would be too high and it would cause an inconvenie­nce to traffic on busy streets like Great Junction Street.

“SEPA says they are not mandated by law to

investigat­e complaints. But we know the sewage spilling into silt is contaminat­ed. It is a concern. We want to see the silt tested for sewage related bacteria so we can determine what the risks are to health. It has to be dealt with.”

In a blog for the environmen­tal rights centre for Scotland, Dr Jarvie accused SEPA of evading responsibi­lity.

He said: “Despite providing irrefutabl­e evidence of faecal contaminat­ion in water and silt samples from the river, SEPA has repeatedly dismissed our complaints. SEPA’s oversight body, Environmen­tal Standards Scotland (ESS), has upheld this dismissal, and the Scottish Government has failed to act.

“Meanwhile, Scottish Water, which is responsibl­e for the sewage pollution, has evaded responsibi­lity.”

The group wants to see a clear action plan to mitigate against spillage into the Water of Leith.

Scottish Liberal Democrats have warned that the latest figures on complaints about sewage underestim­ate the total number of complaints over recent years.

Leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “Scottish Liberal Democrats are determined to get to the bottom of Scotland’s sewage scandal.

“Only a tiny fraction of the network is currently monitored but public complaints can give us a more complete picture of how widespread this problem is.

“While our rivers, lochs and coastlines are destroyed, customers are facing bumper price rises from the government-owned water giant.

“To turn the tide on this scandal, Scottish Liberal Democrats have published plans for a Clean Water Act that would see vital updates to our sewage network and a clamp down on discharges.”

 ?? ?? Save Our Shore Leith has warned that Scotland’s environmen­tal regulator, SEPA, is failing to tackle sewage pollution in the Water of Leith
Save Our Shore Leith has warned that Scotland’s environmen­tal regulator, SEPA, is failing to tackle sewage pollution in the Water of Leith
 ?? ?? Dr Jim Jarvie of Save Our Shore Leith (SOSLeith)
Dr Jim Jarvie of Save Our Shore Leith (SOSLeith)
 ?? Picture: Jolene Campbell ??
Picture: Jolene Campbell

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