FERRET INVESTIGATION: Sturgeon urged to introduce annual sewage leak reports


Investigation by Jamie Mann in The Ferret

Desperate residents whose streets and parks are repeatedly covered with sewage

Sewage from Dalmuir being dumped in the hills on farmland above Loch Lomondside.

The Scottish Government has been urged to start reporting on sewage spillages annually after The Ferret revealed that sewage spilled directly into Scotland’s rivers, lochs and seas at least 12,000 times in a single year.

The issue was raised at Holyrood on 22 December after Scottish Liberal Democrat climate emergency spokesperson, Liam McArthur MSP, secured a statement from environment minister Mairi McAllan.

McAllan did not respond specifically to McArthur’s request for annual sewage leak reports, however, although she said that Scottish Water was continually improving its infrastructure, with a further half a billion pounds recently earmarked.

McArthur made the request for a statement in November after we reported that government officials privately said Scotland was “way behind” England in tackling the issue of high numbers of sewage leaks via storm overflow systems.

We obtained emails between the government, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) and Scottish Water, about leaks between July and October 2021, under freedom of information law.

Other emails obtained by The Ferret were addressed to the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, pictured right. They came from desperate residents whose homes, streets and parks were repeatedly covered with sewage.

Raw sewage used to be taken by boat, the Garrioch Head, from Shieldhall and Dalmuir sewage works, and dumped into the sea far out in the Firth of Clyde.

Now it is brought in articulated lorries – nicknamed inevitably by locals as “shit ships” – and dumped in the Auchencarroch Hills, near Haldane in Balloch.

Believe it or not the boat, owned by Glasgow City Council and later Strathclyde Region, used to provide free days trips for pensioner groups.

Addressing parliament on 22 December, McAllan said: “Since 2010 Scottish Water has worked with Sepa to upgrade 104 wastewater treatment works and 279 storm overflows, by investing £686 million. And now they plan to go even further, investing a further half a billion pounds to improve and protect Scotland’s waste water network.”

Children playing on the polluted beach at Ganavan Sands in Oban, Argyll.

Meanwhile, better recycling of fishing equipment and changing what we flush down the toilet could help cut the amount of litter in Scotland’s waters.

These proposals are included in a consultation on an updated Marine Litter Strategy, which aims to prevent litter reaching our seas and shores, remove rubbish from the marine environment, and strengthen monitoring.

Fishing and aquaculture nets and gear abandoned along the Leven towpath at Renton are currently difficult to recycle as these are usually made of multiple materials.

Adopting a circular design, with standardised materials, would make dismantling and recycling easier. This would enable re-use of valuable materials and reduce the amount of waste that could potentially end up in the water.

The draft strategy also includes measures to prevent items like wet wipes and sanitary products from entering our seas through the sewage system.

Actions include improvements to sewage system infrastructure and an awareness campaign to promote behaviour change and highlight inappropriate flushing of sanitary items.

To help curb plastic pellet pollution, the strategy includes the development of a certification scheme for businesses handling plastic pellets, with this work to be undertaken in collaboration with the plastics industry.

Launching the consultation, Environment Minister Mairi McAllan said: “Marine litter is a global challenge and we are determined to play our full part in addressing it. That’s why we’re asking for views on a range of actions that would help cut the amount of litter and plastic in Scotland’s seas.

“Fishing litter and lost gear poses an ever-present risk to marine life, and we are working with the sector to improve waste management and recycling of gear.

“The actions we take at home can also help keep litter out of our waters. Flushing inappropriate items can cause great harm to our marine environment, and by being aware of this and changing our habits we can all protect our precious seas and wildlife.”

One comment

  1. Once again the Scottish Government is being exposed for failing to deliver. This is a government that lives on spin delivered by a veritable army of spin doctors and press consultants.

    But dig, even just a little, and no matter where you look, this is a government falling down on the job.

    Sewage sludge as the article reveals used to be disposed of at sea at Garrioch Head in the Firth of Clyde. But this was stopped because surprise surprise the sludge was polluting the marine environment. So where to now does it go. Well where better than the rural hills of Auchencarroch above Loch Lomond and the National Park.

    With no attempt to deliver modern environmentally sound solutions like incineration to heat disposal facilities, it is once again a case of the Scottish Government saying one thing and doing another.

    And that of course is absolutely true to of dealing with plastic and recycling. For years now we’ve heard all the spin about recycling. All the millions of words, buzz words, policies et al. But look locally just at West Dunbartonshire where recycling has dropped from 44% to 36%. It may be that our SNP Council is particularly badly run, but going backwards is the utter antithesis of what is being spun at Scottish Government level.

    But aside of the environment which we are clearly quite happy to trash, the thousands of tonnes of material not being recycled but instead landfilled comes at a huge cost. Between landfill tax, tip fees, and other such charges, every tonne of land-filled waste costs the Council around £160.00.

    Multiplying that average cost times let us say 5,000 tonnes and one gets the scale of the money being shelled out on land-filling . Looking at things like that and WDC’s huge drop in recycling, one gets an idea of the scandal of how we deal with waste. Maybe our local representatives would like to comment but I suspect not.

    But yes, an interesting article. Brings to the surface, exposes the reality of how poor Scotland’s environmental protection performance really is. COPD 26 – a load of poppycock as far as Scotland is concerned.

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