Esk River Improvement Group Meeting Minutes – 10am, Monday 15th November 2021, Microsoft Teams
Attendance: Ben Sutherland, Colin Beattie MSP, Jenny Gray, Steven Boon (Scottish Water), Scott Fraser (Scottish Water), Katrina Wilson (SEPA), Peter Finnie (SEPA), Ranald Lockhart (SEPA), Paul Butler (SEPA), Chris Gall (SEPA), Tom Mills (Coal Authority), Anne Hyatt (Roslin and Bilston Community Council), Edel Ryan (Midlothian Council), Remko Plooij (Dalkeith Country Park), Claire Tochel (Fisherrow Harbour & Seafront Association), Jonathan Louis (Forth District Salmon Fishery Board), Ann Stewart-Kmicha (Dalkeith & District Community Council), Edith Cameron (Rosewell & District Community Council), Caroline Freeman (Newbattle Abbey College), Pauline Crerar (Fisherrow Harbour Group), John Oldman (Esk Valley Trust), Joy Godfrey (Eskbank and Newbattle Community Council), Philip Duncan (Musselburgh Racecourse).
Apologies: Shona Grant (East Lothian Council), Conor Price (East Lothian Council).
CB welcomes the meeting and previous minutes were approved.
Item 1: Scottish Water – Steven Boon
Lord Ancrum Woods – Inspections have been undertaken following storm events. There have been signs of ragging as water has died down, clean-up operation is in process. Nothing occurring out of the ordinary, but clean-up of anything seen will ensure this doesn’t get worse.
CB explains that wipes going into the river are a big problem, asks SB if there is any way of capturing these wipes in some way?
SB notes that in a previous meeting there was a discussion on the potential for looking at a powered screen at Lord Ancrum Wood. This would have much more capacity in the chamber and would still allow for some spill of very dilute sewage or storm water but would catch the material in the power screen. SB explains there is a big job to do out at Lord Ancrum Wood and probably a small sewer out there where they normally wouldn’t do something like that, however there is a project in the pipeline he was looking at last week for them to look at something like that, but that would be as far as they would take things out there.
CB asks SB if he can provide a description of a power screen.
SB explains that out there currently is a small manhole chamber with an overflow spill, it would come down and spill over into the sea and out into the burn at Lord Ancrum Wood. A powered screen would be much bigger, and would have a much bigger chamber, almost the size of a small shed. They would put a much bigger screen in which would be about a meter tall with brushes in it that would go round and catch all the rags in the screen and brush it back into the channel. The difference between what is out there and now and what that would be a bigger screen to capture all the rags, so it gives a better chance of capturing everything. Also, with it being powered you don’t stand a chance of it blending up and then overtopping so the powered screen basically keeps it clean as you go.
CB asks SB that given the frequency of which Mary Burn appears in front of this group, would it not be more cost-effective to put in that sort of solution?
SB states it probably would not be, as its easier for SW to go out there and install some of the things they have been such as an event monitor to check it after every storm and then perform a clean up afterwards. It would be difficult for them to install something like that out there in regard to creating a chamber, getting power and water supply to it. About £1million project to get something like that out there and hasn’t cost SW anywhere near that for the clean ups they are doing. However, that wouldn’t necessarily take away from them doing it, as it is not necessarily a money decision but rather what they believe is the best thing to do. SB notes that if doing things like cleaning the sewer plus regular inspections keeps on top of it then that’s the right thing to do rather than creating a big chamber with a powered stream of electricity, which would have an embedded cost of carbon plus the actual cost of carbon for doing all that. They will look at what the best environmental thing is to do out there whilst also keeping on top of the rags that make its way into the environment. SB explains that from what the guys have seen out there this week it is nothing like what we have seen out there in the past, so the work they have been doing out there has been making a big difference.
Benbught Burn – No issues identified.
Hardengreen CSO – Continuing with cleaning and inspections. No new issues identified.
Ochre Burn – Issues have now been resolved.
Eastfield Pumping Station – The plan is to do the cleaning out there starting this month, waiting for a weather window to get this done. A contractor has been lined up to complete the work. The work entails inspecting the pieces of kit, not the pumps but the isolation penstocks and the chambers themselves to ensure there is not a build-up of ragging. What they have seen in the past is that due to the volume of rags the pumps weren’t getting them all away, meaning some were settling out at the bottom of the wet well. They will do a regular clean, but also want to get in and do a full clean to get it back to what it would have been when it was built.
Elm Row, Lasswade - Had issues out there causing a spill, that now been resolved. Spill was caused by line being heavily silted and large boulder which has now been removed.
Grannies Park – Modelling out there has now been completed and the model has been updated. What we have done out there is to increase the height of some of the manholes to change the hydraulic profile. In high flows it was spilling out the top of the manhole, so what we have been doing is to increase the hydraulic profile which would then hopefully pass that through the sewer as opposed to the top of the manhole lids. We haven’t gone as far as sealing the manholes because we want to see if this makes a difference first, but if not, we would then look to seal the covers on top of that.
Morrison’s Haven Sea Defences – Sent a network analyst down there and were seeing some long stringy material coming off them. SF notes that SW is not blaming any issues that they are seeing on beaches as being from the sea defences, but whether we can help out with stopping any of that being washed over the sea defences, going out to sea and then being washed up on beaches.
SF notes they have seen increased public awareness in combined sewers system and how they operate following some conversations in the media. The whole industry is talking about the future and the potential of smart network and how we can do enhanced monitoring for the sewer network to predict long term plans. SF notes there is a need to recognise that the answer isn’t always to build more assets but more sustainable surface water management to combat the issues we have seen with extreme weather events. SW does plan to launch a public campaign in the new year which they will have more information to share with this group at next meeting.
SF notes that SW did commit to providing information regarding what our reservoir teams do in terms of operations of scours which can impact the flows in the Esk. He explains they have a few operations coming up so after the meeting he will send a note to everyone in the group.
CB queries if there is any progress or consideration on rebranding of sanitary wipe packaging, so they clearly explain that these wipes are not biodegradable if disposed incorrectly.
SF notes there is progress being made in that space, there is particular interest around the plastic element. SW supports the ‘fine to flush’ industry standard about how things such as wet wipes can break down and there has been monitoring of retailers as to whether they support ‘fine to flush’.
CT asks in relation to Fisherrow whether regular sewage debris is being recorded as an ‘ongoing issue’. Should they be reporting new incidents every time something new is found on the beach?
SF explains that if there is an incident it should be reported, SW will then get someone out there to look at it.
JG asks what can be done to prevent regular spillages of raw sewages on Newbattle Road? Notes that there were three incidents reported in September.
CB questions if these issues have been reported to SW.
JG states that she believes they were reported.
SF says he will look into the issue and will get back to JG.
CB queries JG where exactly on Newbattle Road the issues were reported.
JG notes it was near Ancrum Road.
Forth River Trust – Nim Kibbler
NK states they responded to an incident near Lothianbridge Weir two weeks ago which was posted on Facebook and had raised significant concern amongst the community. Issue was caused by an old sewer pipe discharging sewage off 3ft rockface, went to meet the landowner but he had a heart attack whilst on site, they are waiting for him to come out hospital before following up.
RL asks if NK reported the issue to SW.
NK confirms that this has been reported to SEPA as a pollution incident, but not to SW. It was her colleagues that handled the issue, she was not present for the visit.
Coal Authority – Tom Mills
TM notes that approval was given last week for the funding for the mine water treatment scheme from BEIS. TM reported in the last meeting that this was the big next step and has now been achieved.
CB congratulates CA on this achievement.
TM notes they are now moving on to the next step, which is the design and build tender. This is the package of works for a design and to establish a contractor to put this in place. That is going out shortly, there will be a tender period so they are expecting the returns to coming back around the end of January and a contract will then be awarded out as soon we have evaluated the tender process.
TM states there has been some early works in terms of the planning, and they are still looking at submitting for prior approval for permitted developments. TM notes they just have some final bits of information to pull together before they can submit.
TM explains one other big thing they are doing is surrounding stakeholder engagement. He notes CA has recently recruited and started a new Stakeholder Engagement Manager who is going to be working quite a bit on this Scheme. They are hoping to be far more visible within the community and amongst their partners, so you should start to see a programme of communications in terms of our plans for the Scheme by the new year.
TM notes they are trying to see what enabling and clearance work can be done in the new year, but the reality is that majority of the work will begin around springtime and will progress over the summer period. Once they get the final programme details, they will be able to report back to the group with a target date for when the Scheme can be commissioned.
TM explains in terms of the chemistry of the mine water, CA have been continuing to monitor the outfall and the chemistry. The Iron levels have been steady at approximately 40-41 milligrams per litre which is a little bit lower than what we saw a few months ago. The manganese levels are currently around 4.7 milligrams per litre.
TM notes that overall, great news about the funding and they will be able to move forward with some security now that funding is there to build the scheme.
CB asks whether the funding includes putting resources on-the-ground to manage the implementation?
TM notes that this is not additional funding but money that was within their overall pot from Government that required approval due to size of investment. Resources are already in place, CA already has Project Mangers and a supply chain for the design work and once the Scheme is operational we have a team of operational staff.
ASK states she is concerned about the carbon footprint that such a plant might have, would be good to see innovative technology being involved.
TM explains that when looking at the different options a lot of consideration was placed on the carbon footprint. There is no denying that the Scheme will require power and chemical usage, so within the scope of work we are asking our contractors to come up with innovative ideas about how we can reduce our carbon footprint and how we can incorporate this into the Scheme.
CB questions if TM is aware of how long it might be for the Scheme to be up and running before the impact on the river would be reversed.
TM states that as soon as treatment of mine water begins there will be an improved water quality, however what takes longer will be the removal of the orange staining on the river bed, so once we take the iron out that won’t be added to. Once they get some heavy flows that will slowly remobilise and clear through the iron staining. You do tend to see a quick visible improvement, however in terms of how long it takes for the ecology to recover, that can take a much longer time.
CB asks whether it will be CA or SEPA that will be doing the monitoring as the river returns to a degree of health?
TM says CA will monitor performance of Scheme and the water quality that is being discharged, SEPA will do the continued monitoring of the river, water quality downstream and ecology.
Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) – Ranald Lockhart
CB notes he has circulated the letter back from Scottish Government regarding septic tanks which he would like to discuss during this part of the agenda.
RL notes SEPA have been to number of complaints out on the Esk and have been working with SW to get those rectified. They have also been doing a number of inspections on the Esk, probably 7 or 8 storm works. These are attached to the sewer and take the initial flood event when storms come through. They’ve been out to see how those are doing and what work has been done to get these up to standard.
CB asks for progress on how SEPA are recovering from the hacking.
KW states that progress has been slow, but they are continuing to build back and get the systems and data available that had been lost and building it back together into our work. Recently there was published reviews from independent experts on the cyber attack which are all available on SEPA’s website. This is was to help SEPA and others to learn from the cyber-attack.
CB questions as far as your day-to-day operations if SEPA back to normal or not yet.
KW notes that there is still work arounds in order to do the day job and believes there will be for quite some time. They are still able to operate but can sometimes cause a delay if the systems or the data that was previously available is not in place.
PF adds that the SEPA did not need to publish the reports but did so because they wanted others in government and the wider business sector to also learn from their painful experience.
CB states that on the issue of septic tanks, he believes that there appears to be something missing here, as it seems fundamentally wrong that there is any discharge into the river that is not properly monitored. CB notes that he is aware that some septic tanks are registered, but there are others that are not and perhaps that has been the case for many years. A coupled of questions arise, what would the purpose of registration be and how would that fit in with monitoring the health of the river, what would the costs be and what is SEPAs opinion on all of this?
CG says that registration is a requirement, but the focal point is around conveyancing of properties. So, what do we do when tax or registered? Well that goes into our wider knowledge base of activities around catchments that have the potential to be impacting. CG notes that for costs, he doesn’t know whether it is worked out on a cost recovery basis or not, but he knows for certain it is around £100 for septic tank registration at this current time.
CB asks what SEPAs view is on registration. He notes that despite registration being mandatory many can slip through the gaps. At time of conveyancing they have to register, but there must be many are not registered at all.
CG states that any that aren’t registered at the point of conveyancing, if SEPA come up to these because they are aware of a problem being reported, that is the opportunity for those to be registered as well and for them to have that conversation. There is no avoiding that necessity if they have to deal with these householders over a problematic tank.
CB states at what point do we say that is enough septic tanks that the river can take.
CG notes there are no recorded pressures on the Esk at the moment and there is modelling work that goes on to decide that, they are always trying to improve on how that is done and if it got to the point where we were seeing that septic tanks were causing a pressure they would go and explore that in more detail with householders.
CB questions how they would know if septic tanks were the cause of the problem.
CG explains that work can go into looking at the land use, even if we don’t have the registrations. SEPA can then get a sense of the apportionment of the impact to farming, to other rural activities, to septic tanks and to sewage works. That work is quite sophisticated, and they are trying to improve on that over time.
CB states that he presumes that some farmers will spread slurry and with rain some of that will find its way into the water course.
CG says that if that happens, they will deal with that too.
NK questions if SEPA currently has the relevant data on where the septic tanks are on the Esk, or if that was lost as a result of the cyber-attack.
CG says they do have a good record of registered septic tanks, but they can’t speak for the completeness of that. However, they could certainly try and find out more for the next meeting.
CB states that unless you are actually cited on the registration, then SEPA wouldn’t be able to meaningfully say there is ‘X’ amount of septic tanks that are not registered, because they just don’t know.
CG says that the modelling attempts to get above the knowledge of whether each one is registered by looking at the land use and the connection of properties to bigger settlements that will be on sewers vs isolated properties that are likely not. It looks at the bigger picture and tries to establish what is the likelihood of apportioning an impact to that number of septic tanks in the catchment.
CB states that is difficult to know how big an issue this is and whether we should make a major issue of it with the Government.
CT asks on Eastfield Pumping Station, whether SEPA has taken any action against SW after it was revealed by an external contractor that SW had not been reaching its licensing requirement. She believes that SEPA meeting its obligation on this issue is important. Will there be any sanctions taken?
CG states that he was not sighted in regard to the particular licensing requirements being discussed.
CT explains it was in the last briefing note from SW and SEPA about the situation at Fisherrow and the continued poor water quality.
KW states that she will need to take that away and ask internally if any sanctions are being taken.
KW notes that she also has an updated regarding the next Fisherrow Sands Improvement updated briefing note. She explains there was due to be another one issued but does not have a date for that yet as it is linked to the wider bathing water classification announcement. There will be another one issued but can’t guarantee whether it will be the end of this year or the beginning of next year.
CG states that in relation to the septic tank discussion, he would be happy to invite a colleague to come along to the next meeting that’s involved in the science and policy side of the septic tank strategy in Scotland.
CB states that this would be a good idea and explains that this would be an opportunity to decide if this is a major issue or not.
KW states she has been given an updated on the Water Environment Fund. She notes SEPA need to clearly understand the structural integrity of the weirs in the Esk before deciding how to spend significant public funds to improve fish passage, they recognise the appetite for progress but there is a process to be followed to make best use of the funds. Structural integrity surveys will take place in Montague Bridge and Iron Mills weir on the North Esk, and Dalkeith weir on the South Esk this winter. It is hoped that the results will be reviewed by the end of Q4 in 2021/2022. Until these surveys have taken placed and the results have been reviewed, SEPA are not in the position to give further details about how and when they can move forward with fish passage projects.
KW also provides an update on the reservoir releases for the fish ecology, notes that SEPA are not recommending any additional autumn releases from Rosebery reservoir because there is greater benefit to fish ecology from extra releases in the spring, meaning the reservoir needs to fill during the autumn and winter to allow this to happen.
East Lothian Council – Shona Grant
CB states that SG was not able to attend the meeting, however he has received an update which is as follows:
“Sample results have come back for the Fisherrow Beach Discharge. The Council’s Contaminated Land Officer has sent an email on to SEPA and has suggested a regular monitoring programme for the discharge. We are awaiting further communication from SEPA and should be in a position to share further details thereafter”
CB asks if SEPA wishes to comment on the update.
KW states that SEPA’s contaminated land experts have offered to support East Lothian Council with the discharge limits at the former landfill but doesn’t know if East Lothian Council has said they will take up that help.
East Lothian Council Flood Prevention Scheme – Conor Price
CB states that he has received some constituents writing to him regarding issues such as that natural defences not being incorporated into the scheme, issues with communication and the consultation process. CB also reports that he has been sent a substantial document from CP before the meeting which he hopes he will be able to share with the group.
ASK states that the disappointed that the slides presented at September’s meeting were not able to be shared.
BS notes that he has not yet been further communication regarding the presentation slides but will circulate these when received.
CB explains that in the email he received from CP there were a number of attachments one of the documents does appear to say ‘presentation slide’ but was not sure if this is the same presentation.
CB also notes he is disappointed that CP has been unable to attend as it is a big issue in Musselburgh as well as potentially having a significant impact on the river.
PC states that she has also received an email from CP and believes quite a few other people have also, so thinks it must be acceptable to circulate.
CB notes that the information might be something to discuss at the next meeting as the issue will run for quite some time.
RP explains that he is meeting CP next week to talk about the location of a debris catcher which he can update on in due course.
Midlothian Council – Edel Ryan
No significant updates from last meeting and no reports from any other service across the authority to feed into this group.
CB asks if there have been any issues in regard to pollution and so forth in the Midlothian area?
ER states that she is not aware of any issues raised since the last meeting, so unless there is any that the community groups wish to highlight there is nothing that has come up as significant.
EC states they are hopefully Rosewell village are looking to organise a clean-up of the Sheil Burn next April due to debris falling down the sides of the slopes and into the river, but has faced complications as the land is owned by the Crown Estate, asks if ER could provide any assistance.
ER states she is happy to help, notes if it is not directly within their service she can signpost to the correct person within the Authority. ER also notes that if the material is making its way physically into the water SEPA may be interested in that as well in terms of the pollution of the water course.
EC notes that the debris consists of physical objects such as lawn mowers and tractor tyres not chemical pollutants.
ER says that she will pick this up directly with EC and is happy to take this forward.
CB states that Crown Estates are not exempt from the normal requirements in terms of pollution and so on.
EC states it is difficult to get in contact with the right people to get permission to do anything as the Council can’t help to uplift stuff as it’s private land, and the Crown Estate says they aren’t sure if they can help because it would require public money.
ER says they are happy to have a look at this issue and see if there is anything they can do from their point of view to take this forward.
CB states that he can assist with the Crown Estate if anyone in the group needs help.
ASK states that they could try approaching Richard Callander who is the Queen’s Lord Lieutenant who may be interested in helping.
CB states that if Crown Estate land he won’t have much locus over this, however the Scottish Government does.
CB thanks all for attending.
Meeting ended 11:00am.
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