In attendance: Laura Cunningham, Colin Beattie MSP, Jonathan Louis (Forth District Salmon Fishery Board), Conor Price (East Lothian Council), Shona Grant (East Lothian Council), Audrey Murray (Enjoy Leisure), Nim Kibbler (Forth Rivers Trust), Peter Finnie (SEPA), Katrina Wilson (SEPA), Philip Duncan (Musselburgh Racecourse), Paul Butler (SEPA), Tom Mills (Coal Authority), Claire Tochel (Fisherrow Harbour Group), Steven Boon (Scottish Water), Scott Fraser (Scottish Water), Ann Stewart Kmicha (Dalkeith), Joy Godfrey (Eskbank and Newbattle), Edel Ryan (Midlothian Council), John Oldham (Esk Valley Trust), Helen Blackburn (Rosewell)
Apologies - Anne Hyatt (Roslin and Bilston), Sue Peart (Landowner of section of Esk)
CB welcomes the meeting and notes previous minutes were approved prior to Parliamentary Recess in March.
Item 1: Scottish Water – Steven Boon
Hardengreen CSO – No new issues identified. Regardless regular cleaning and checks have carried on.
Lord Ancrum Wood – After heavy rain some minor ragging at outfall. Scottish Water attended and cleared this up last week. Continuing 6 monthly cleaning of sewer network – checking for ragging and root ingress – next check due before end of June.
Benbught Burn – No issues identified.
Fisherrow – Carrying out regular cleans and checks. SB notes that any issues here are quite sporadic with the tides and they will commit to continue to check as necessary.
Ochre Burn – Although Scottish Water have no assets there discharging but Scottish Water did send a team to check this out. As a precaution Scottish Water did a survey of the nearest sewer to this location. Sewer had some issues and there had been some development which created silt within manholes and network in that location near Newbattle High School. Scottish Water have cleared this. SB notes there may have been a connection between that and discharge from land drains there. Scottish Water have been checking, it has remained dry since and it is hoped to be resolved now.
Eastfield Pumping Station – discharges out to the water that could potentially impact Fisherrow. Over years carried out work here and recently, focusing on ensuring pumping station is operating as best it can. Operational Working Group now up and running with SEPA and other relevant stakeholders to give updates on how it is performing and any improvements that need made. Last update given contractors were going to carry out survey of station to check out condition of pumps and other equipment. Checking if any equipment needed replaced or refurbished. There is work needing to be carried out but SB notes Scottish Water do not want to carry work out during bathing season in case any issues are caused so it will happen after bathing season. This has no impact on pumping station. SB notes Scottish Water did a full clean of pumping station when operational which worked well. Afterwards, Scottish Water have been better hydraulic performance from pumps.
Issue behind Grannies Park behind McGregor signs, Dalkeith – Scottish Water are still working on this. PFI assest but regardless SF and SB will continue to monitor. Established this issue is not ongoing and only occurs during high flows. Need to wait for heavy rainfall to investigate if there is a hydraulic restriction causing discharge from manhole. SF notes Scottish Water scheduled to go out today to see if there are any updates.
CB notes last update received on Grannies Park, Veolia involved. Scottish Water continue to follow up with Veolia.
ASK asks Scottish Water regarding the dates 8 June and 10 June whereby Scottish Water released some water from the reservoirs without coordinating with other agencies. ASK states this caused issues on South Esk causing iron colour to be flushed down the river. ASK would like more coordination in future from Scottish Water when they do a release.
SB states he does not know about that but will pass back team.
CB invites CT to ask a question. CT wanted to know how long Eastfield pumping station had been underperforming for and whether that has caused the low quality at 5 or so years at Fisherrow? CT also notes on the delayed work due to bathing season but Fisherrow does not have an official bathing season because of poor quality.
SB answers work taken over past few years has been in phases. First phase carried out around couple years ago ensured pumps were resilient, issues where pumps were failing too regularly so replaced all pumps. Next phase was control of the pumps, the pumps are controlled by a computer and the pumps kept coming on in wrong order which reduced flowed going forward. This was fixed. Phase 3 was to ensure it was a clear as possible to hydraulically pump everything forward as best it can. First part of that has been done and second part will be carried out after bathing season. SB notes ST point that there is no official bathing season at Fisherrow but SEPA and Scottish Water keep an eye on this.
SB carries on addressing issues with Eastfield pumping station itself. From Monday 21 June back 12 months, there was 8 days where the pump discharged over the last 365 days typically during periods of high rainfall. It appears the clean has helped resolve this and 0 instances of discharge have occurred since.
SB states licensed conditions. Scottish Water are licensed to bring forward around 947 litres per second from Eastfield. However, they have not had high enough flows to prove if this is possible. Maximum at this moment, it has only reached 700 litres per second and the pumping station has never been beaten yet. Pump performance individually: pump 1 can do 230 litres per second; pump 2, 150 litres per second; pump 3 150 litres per second; pump 4 has only done 75 litres per second. Important to note all pumps are the same so it shows a maximum a pump can do is in region of 230 litres per second. Hydraulically, if the first one gets beaten it will call on the next one and so on. This tells us the pumping station has potential to do 900 litres per second if needed but it is difficult to prove as it has never reached that point. There is also a fifth pump on standby.
Forth River Trust – Nim Kibbler
NK is a project manager for FRT and notes she is standing in for Iain Reid. NK mentions JO held a meeting last night where they discussed the Esk Valley Trust working closely with Riverfly as part of the bug life project. NK states two years ago when she last spoke to SEPA they stated the Riverfly partnership which is used within partnership with the Environment Agency as a trigger mechanism for community science for monitoring pollution impacts, but they do not work SEPA. This is because trigger levels within science project do not work with SEPA. NK was interested to hear SEPA are working with Riverfly now on the Esk specifically on the iron discharge and is therefore curious is SEPA has fixed the issue.
CB invites SEPA to comment. KW does not know but will find out.
NK notes FRT train individuals and community groups in riverfly and have thousands of records that have been gathered by members of the community and would like these brought online if possible.
NK further notes FRT are awaiting to heard on funding for a project focusing on environmental justice and environmental advocacy. CB asks when they should hear back. NK states end of August.
CB invites members to ask NK questions.
JO notes the Esk Riverfly team approached Esk Valley Trust to work under the umbrella of EVT, therefore they will support them and allow them to operate under the Trust. JO hopes that information gathered will be used by SEPA and notes steady monitoring might prove useful.
NK offers EVT support with training if needed.
Coal Authority – Tom Mills
TM shares a presentation with the members on Bilston Glen – Mine Water Treatment Scheme.
TM provides general update. Coal Authority continue to monitor Junkies Adit. Latest sample results from 9 June show iron concentration holding around 45mg/litre similar to previous samples; manganese concentration have increased slightly to around 5-5.2mg/litres which is highest reading; also small increase in nickel. Weir reading still fluctuates regularly. Indicates that it has not settled down in terms on consistent chemistry which presents challenges in terms of design but hopes it will start to stabilise in coming months.
General project progress: the on site treatment trials were completed in May and hopes results are ready by end of July. The purpose of the trial was to help shape the design of the treatment scheme, understand what chemicals work best to extract iron out of lime water and chemical dosing rates.
Coal Authority have been putting together a detailed business case for treatment scheme. Approval has to be sought from the executive and BEIS due to size of investment. Any proposal over 5 million needs approved by BEIS.
Coal Authority have also started to look at design options in order to start having discussions with planners and in the early stages of putting together tender information for the main design.
As Covid-19 restrictions ease, they are looking at how they can step up engagement with local communities. Coal Authority have recently seen an increase in public enquires and activity on social media, this may be as a result of the river being impacted by the mine water and looking red. They are keen to get more information out there on this.
TM shares photos of what an active treatment plan may look like. Displays a scheme in Dawdon in North East which is the biggest active treatment plan the Coal Authority currently manage. This scheme is in an industrial estate and is designed to fit in there. For Bilston Glen, Coal Authority would look to design something that fits in with the setting. Internally the industrial process would be similar by stripping out the iron from the water and returning the clean water to the river.
Coal Authority are currently challenged with the scheme in the next stage and getting approval for the funding. Over 25 years, it will cost £25 million: £10 million initial capital investment to build the plant and £15 million to operate. It is important that the benefits are presented to BEIS, initially present economic appraisal which is currently lower than the cost of the scheme so there may be a need to also demonstrate non-financial benefits which they are working with SEPA on. The scale of the scheme compared to other treatments schemes is large – there are 13 treatment schemes in Scotland and the cost of Bilston Glen will potentially be the same or more than all 13 schemes combined.
Coal Authority’s next step is to continue working with partners such as SEPA in developing the scheme and implement wider stakeholder engagement. The primary focus to to get the funding approved for the scheme and continue to develop designs. There is no timescale for this but will update the group once a timescale becomes clearer.
TM concludes and ask the group to ask questions.
CB asks for a copy of the slides presented and Laura will circulate to attendees once received. CB goes on to ask from past experience of projects like this, will the situation correct itself or stop in future?
TM states this scheme is collecting at the mine water at its source which gives more potential that the slows could alter as there is so much underground which could alter but this is rare. However, if you are to pump the mine water directly from the mine then that can be a reduced risk but with Bilston Glen but because of the way the workings are they are on an extremely steep syncline that if you were to try access this it would create significant risks and create higher operational costs. If mine water is emanating from the surface, they will collect at that point because that is where it has found a route to come out. In terms of chemistry changes, no changes really seen once stabilised unless an acid flush occurs, but these changes can be managed.
CB further asks how the iron ore and manganese in its hardened formed is disposed of.
TM explains traditionally the only option would be to go into landfill but over the years other alternatives have been sought which depends on the type of sludge created. In England, some can be spread on agricultural land. At Bilston Glen, options have been looked at and worst case scenario would be landfill. However, would work with SEPA and other organisations to look at other options.
NK thanks the Coal Authority for taking on this issue and notes the Forth Rivers Trust are inundated with issues reported from the community regarding social and environmental of the scheme and how the cost analyses is carried out. NK asks what plan B is if plan A is not approved and who would take responsibility?
TM explains that before plan A would reach a point of rejection, the Coal Authority will build their case and emphasise non-economic factors. If plan A is not approved, Coal Authority would work with SEPA on what can be done with the benefits and this may be a scheme which provides improvement but not on a large scale but the decrease in benefits must also be considered. The first port of call would be to build a stronger case and ask for funding again on plan A.
NK clarifies with TM that plan B is to build a stronger case for plan A. TM responds BEIS would give feedback and they would work to better understand the concerns raised but gives reassurance that concerns are discussed and before any application is fully submitted. TM states he thinks they are building a strong vase but notes competing interests in funding.
NK asks for more clarity on message the Forth Rivers Trust provides public and clarifies again the above with TM. TM notes SEPA involved at the moment with the case and SEPA would be very much involved in plan B and escalate within BEIS. NK happy with response.
CB asks how he can support the Coal Authority with the funding application. TM states a letter of support may help. CB is happy to provide and asks TM to note the main points needing focused on for support.
ASK enquires about the messages to the local community and states it needs urgent attention because the majority of the community don’t know what is happening exactly and goes on to state in the last year and a half there has been a decrease in the water quality. ASK asks the Coal Authority to issue a message as soon as possible to help inform people.
ASK further asks about the manganese filtration. TM will give an answer at a later date. PB notes that this is complex and the South Esk is strange as PH rises the manganese becomes more available which tends to happen in the summer months but notes more work is being undertaken on this.
PB further contributes to the BEIS case stating letters of support would be appreciated and SEPA and Coal Authority are working closely to find solutions. PB further notes not one party is solely responsible legally and it must be a partnership.
JO adds that the Esk Valley Trust have discussed the action of MSPs and MPs in providing support and lobbying BEIS and the UK Government.
CB contributes that the local authorities may also be able to support. TM will take this issue and let the group know what will be most effective to support the funding.
JG enquires what the local communities can do? Where should this be directed? TM thinks the community feedback will be beneficial and will confirm at a later date how communities can contribute.
JL offers any information of fishing rights on the river and notes this will have an economic impact. JL goes on to asks if there is an increase in the absorption of manganese throughout the year where it may not be detrimental to the general public, what is the impact on the organisms in the river? Is there a case where it might be impacting anglers who take home and eat the fish and should we be notifying the anglers and warning the public?
PB comment previously last year there was an NHS Lothian Health Protection Team study looking at this and thinks best option would be to revisit this study and get the professionals to consider the updated data. ER will go back to the health professionals at NHS Lothian and Food Standards Scotland to establish this and notes in terms of support this will be communicated to Midlothian Council to see how they can offer support.
CP notes he will similarly communicate this with East Lothian Council and goes on to ask about the long-term potential for water pollution to reduce? Will this be reduced forever or reduced to an acceptable level? TM answers that pollution will decrease but over a long time which can takes hundreds of years.
CB concludes and asks TM to provide information later how we can provide support.
SEPA – Katrina Wilson
No significant updates since the last meeting. The public are still reporting issues to SEPA but nothing significant. The impact of the cyber-attack is easing off with some services able to resume but remains an issue.
As part of the Water Environment Fund, there has been agreed funding for structural surveys of Dalkeith Weir, Montague and Iron Mill this financial year. Specification has been written using advice from East Lothian Council as a lesson learned and field work must be carried out during low flows conditions which may be spring of next year. The fish ecologists are happy for investigations to take place from Dalkeith to Dalhousie.
Fisherrow Sands – no improvement in the bathing water quality in 2020 and therefore, it is not suitable to request bathing status. SEPA will continue to take samples.
SEPA sent ecologists have visited 7 sites across the Esk and they have taken interverbrae samples. The bank side analysis suggests a dip in results in mine water discharge.
CB asks how much data SEPA will be able to retrieve following the cyber-attack?
KW explains certain departments will receive some data back. This will happen over time and it is not yet confirmed that all data will be able to be retrieved. PF explains the data retrieved needs a specialised cleanse as it could be contaminated, then verified and then handed back which needs to happen with each individual piece of data. It is a long process. CB wishes SEPA well.
CT follows up on Fisherrow and asks if samples will be communicated this year? KW explains the results will not be put on the website as it is not a designated bathing water and would be subject to a FOI request.
CT goes on to states that the community’s goal is to have Fisherrow as a designated bathing water, is there a timescale? KW states there is no confirmed timescale currently.
CB refers back to a previous discussion with Scottish Water regarding septic tanks and the overflow possibly going into the Esk. Currently we do not know how many are discharging or if they are contributing to the pollution in the Esk. There is no requirement to licence these tanks. CB states that this licence may not need legislation and asks if the requirement of licence would come from SEPA?
KW isn’t sure but refers to the register which people only tend to register their septic tank when they move house because they have not previously registered this even though it is a requirement. However, it the pollution is on land it is passed to the local authority and if it is water SEPA will respond. CB asks if local authority be the licensing authority or SEPA if a system was implemented? KE explains SEPA keep a register but will not licences. CB states we need to understand where the septic tanks are. PF mentions local authorities might be aware of what properties are not paying sewage costs and perhaps they should be contacting them to persuade people to register their tank.
ER states the local authority may know who has a septic tank and there is a need to establish what is being looked for. Some septic tanks are far from water and therefore, will not be contributing to any pollution in the water. CB states the ultimate aim to identify potential sources of pollution into the water.
SB adds that licences would need to be developed for the tanks then followed up with sampling of the septic tanks. Without this. it would be a challenge to legislate septic tanks and the lay person who owns a septic tank probably has no knowledge as to how their tanks is performing. It would a very difficult ask and would require a lot of information for the public to understand.
CP notes the existing requirement for owners to register their tanks with SEPA and asks if there is a register in place it should be easy to identify the number septic tanks registered around the Esk catchment and ask if there is a potential to extract this data from system? CP further notes however this is just one possible point of discharge and SEPA have already carried out work trying to identify points of discharge across Esk.
KW advises septic tanks should be registered with SEPA but there is not a full list as people only tend to register when moving property.
East Lothian Council – Shona Grant
East Lothian Council are aware of the discharge in Fisherrow from the former landfill site at Newhailes. East Lothian Council and SEPA met to discuss this and will look at what is required to help resolve. In meantime, samples will be taken.
SG also updates the Group on the signage on the bathing status. This was raised with SEPA but no issue was found with the signage and it is adequate.
East Lothian Council Flood Prevention Scheme – Conor Price
The scheme has been busy reopening its consultation to Musselburgh and have been liaising with the Community Council and Musselburgh conservation society. Their enhanced communication strategy is picking up place and a new website should be live soon which will be followed by a newsletter. Local area consultation groups have been confirmed and residents will receive a letter in due course to notify them of the first meeting. Additional notice boards have also been placed along the coast line at Fisherrow.
The design process remains within the team and they are currently focusing on technical matters in order to show options which can be taken. Consultation will be presented early autumn.
Following on from the last meeting, the Scheme continue to tackle invasive species through the river corridor in partnership with the Inveresk Village Society. CP hopes to have a working group set up on invasive species and asks if anyone in the Group interested to contact him.
Midlothian Council – Edel Ryan
No significant updates from the last meeting.
ER refers back to a question raised on hydropower Lothianbridge Weir and the wider context of hydropower generally on the Esk with the Midlothian area. Midlothian Council and Vattenfall, a Swedish owned energy firm, have launched a new energy services company in Midlothian which is a joint 50/50 venture. It aims to deliver low carbon energy projects. It will look at district heating schemes, electric vehicles, solar power, and direct wire supply to commercial properties. At this time, in terms of hydropower, direct wire feeding to local businesses is favoured over feeding power into the main grid. In relation to the Esk, in previous years there have been a number of areas on the Esk looked at including Lothianbridge Weir but none have progressed at this time.
PB adds on the subject of energy that the mine workings have left us with an interconnected array of tunnels that contain water that is relatively warm which is a fantastic source of heat under the central belt. Good source of heat which can be used in the future to help Scotland reach Net Zero.
Group Members invited to make further comments
JG mentions the Eskbank and Newbattle community council have been looking at the new local development plan and it states in parts of the plan there are growth upgrades required at Roslin, Rosewell, Penicuik and Gorebridge sewage pumping stations to accommodate the housing building at some of these sites. JG asks will this reduce the number of CSOs pumping sewage into the South Esk? SB explains in response upgrades streaming works themselves wouldn’t have any impact on the flows within the network as they are end of pipe. There are things currently being worked on at these treatment works on a temporary basis enable growth and then a strategic plan looking at the above assets to see what needs to be done overall.
CT mentions ragging down from broken sea defence at Morrisons Haven. CP states he will visit and take action.
SF shares a message from Reservoir Safety Manager at Scottish Water which refers back to a point earlier in the meeting regarding the high flows following dam inspections. Establishes there was work carried out as Glencourse and Esk Law whereby valves are opened for a short period of time to ensure reservoirs are operating correctly and protecting public water supplies. NK asks if this can be communicated in advance in future. SF will pass message to relevant team.
NK raises a question on behalf of Gorebridge Community Association regarding a gravity sewer pipe broke near one of the treatment works and asks SW if this has been fixed. SB unsure but will find out.
NK also raises reports of two children being sick after paddling in the water seems it might be related to spills from the pumping station at Taylor Wimpey site at Harvieston. SB notes Scottish Water will not take over the site until work is complete at developer site but will look at the issue.
PD updates the group on a recent incident at Musselburgh Racecourse. The racecourse and golf course use the River Esk for water for the courses via a mill lade. Water did suddenly stop on Thursday 24 due a build up of silt. They rely on a consistent and clean water supply as the location suffers in the hot weather. Any alternatives prove expensive to the course. CP demonstrates a map to the Group to give context and explains SEPA in last 12 to 18 months have placed a licence for extraction onto the mill lade which has resulted on a new regime of letting water into mill lade and has presented challenges. There may need to have additional operational measures in places into the licences so that there is clear definition of how the inlet remains clear at the Weir and where just now a natural deposition from the river has resulted in the inlet pipes being blocked but the ability to remove the sediment is restricted by only being allowed during summer working. During summer, intervention will be needed as a drought scenario will occur. CP is currently in discussion with Alison Baker from Forth Rivers Trust on this matter. CB asks for an update at the next meeting.
CB thanks all for attending,
Meeting concludes at 1:15pm.