Esk River Improvement Group Meeting Minutes – 10am, Monday 9th May 2022, Microsoft Teams
Attendance: Ben Sutherland, Colin Beattie MSP, Jenny Gray, Roger Crofts (Esk Valley Trust), Katrina Wilson (SEPA), Chris Gall (SEPA), Peter Finnie (SEPA), Paul Butler (SEPA), Ranald Lockhart (SEPA), Pauline Crerar (Fisherrow Harbour Group), Conor Price (Musselburgh Flood Protection Scheme), Rachael Warrington (Musselburgh Flood Protection Scheme), Steven Boon (Scottish Water), Scott Fraser (Scottish Water), Moira Cartwright (Midlothian Council), Derek Oliver (Midlothian Council), Ann Stewart-Kmicha (Dalkeith & District Community Council), Annette Lardeur (Coal Authority), Nim Kibbler (Forth Rivers Trust), Ross Hughes (Forth Rivers Trust), Brian Wailes (Eskbank and Newbattle Community Council).
Apologies: Edith Cameron (Rosewell & District Community Council), Shona Grant (East Lothian Council), Claire Tochel (Fisherrow Harbour & Seafront Association), Anne Hyatt (Roslin and Bilston Community Council), Philip Duncan (Musselburgh Racecourse), Joy Godfrey (Eskbank and Newbattle Community Council).
CB welcomes the meeting and previous minutes were approved.
CB reads out update from Rosewell & District Community Council:
‘Rosewell & District Community Council recently carried out a clean-up of the Shiel Burn in which they filled a full skip with metal and another full of plastic waste including 5 tyres, an oil drum, plastic pipes, builders bags alongside general food packaging litter. The skips were funded by Crown Estate Scotland who manage the land on either side of the burn. The builder's yard have agreed to erect fencing to stop further litter in the river but the Community Council plan to speak to the Steel Fabricators to do the same, and to ask about a waste pipe which had foul smelling liquid coming from the Steel fabrication yard’.
Scottish Water – Steven Boon and Scott Fraser
SB reports there are no specific issues to highlight to the group.
Lord Ancrum Wood – SB confirms a value management session has recently taken place to look at a potential project at this site. At present, what is being considered is whether there are any opportunities in the upstream network for surface water management. They are also looking at what storage capacity there is in the network and downstream in the PFI storm works. They are also redoing the model in that area which will feed into any CSO proposals. It will look at any programme of blockages and whether proactive cleaning is needed. SB states all of this information will be taken into a further meeting which will bring all of those numbers to the table to determine what option is best to take forward. SB notes the process tends to move relatively slowly but they are trying to push things forwards as quickly as possible.
Eastfield Pumping Station –Scottish Water committed to undertaking a significant piece of work at Eastfield Pumping Station prior to bathing season. SB reports this piece of work has gone very well and has consisted of draining down the pumping station and managing with tankers, whilst at the same time checking out all the equipment. SB notes they did find one of the five pump lines was split, however they do have a standby arrangement which means they are technically okay with one of those pipes being taken out so long as there have critical spares on site. It is their intention to do any repairs required at the pumping station prior to bathing season. SB states they found a significant amount of rags in the wet wells when they were cleaning, so seeing it back to as it was designed is a fantastic place to be. Once all the work has been completed, they will do a drop test to check what flows the pumping station can pass forward and whether it can meet the flows on its licence.
PC asks with regards to the pump line splitting if this meant the line was broken?
SB explains there is a large pump with pipework which goes through a concrete wall and into the next well. It pulls out the flows out of the wet well and pushes it through into a rising mains which takes it further down the network. SB notes immediately when it came out of the pump it was clear it would not be capable of pumping any decent flow and was taking away pressure from the other pumps which was impacting their performance. The pump has subsequently been blanked off and they are now looking to install new pipework.
‘Nature Calls’ Campaign – SF thanks members for their support with helping to share the campaign on social media. Scottish Water were delighted with the response they received from organisations, customers and members of the public. SF states this was a huge campaign for Scottish Water which included advertisement on TV, radio, cinema, digital and outdoors. SF explains there were two angles to the campaign around binning wipes, as well as calling for a ban on wipes which contain plastic. This will be a campaign Scottish Water will be running for some time and will be looking to do further national advertisement later in the year. They will also be working with their operational colleagues to see if this has led to a significant change in behaviours.
CB mentions one of the issues he has noticed coming up regularly has been the general release of sewage into waterways. There have been around 470,000 controlled releases into our rivers in England and we do see the same problems happening here. Seems that the whole system is geared to having that sort of facility. What is the long-term strategy for getting away from this system?
SF explains he has seen a lot more interest in how the wastewater system works in Scotland. People are concerned about what is being released into the environment and in their rivers. Scottish Water have been investing huge sums of money in our wastewater infrastructure over the past 15 years to improve its network. In Scotland, there is not as much network monitoring in comparison to England, but there has been significant investment in screening and upgrading our sewer overflows. By putting more monitoring in place, it will help to identify if there are spillages when there shouldn’t be, as well as detailing the volumes of spillages when they do occur. In the long term, Scottish Water are grappling with a number of factors including climate change and looking at how they can ensure as much of the wastewater gets safely treated back to the environment. It will also be about working with partners to remove surface water from the network and making improvements to ‘blue-green’ infrastructure. This is alongside public campaigns to change behaviours such as stopping wipes being flushed down the toilet and getting into the environment.
CB thanks SF for his input but notes it appears some fundamental works is needed over a lengthy period in order to stop these sewage releases. Does Scottish Water have a plan to implement over the coming decades to get us to a point where all sewage is properly treated and doesn’t need to be released into the waterways?
SF advises that he does not believe they can entirely prevent the need for release points into the environment, but they can minimise this significantly as well as managing what does go into it. Because of competing factors such as preventing flooding it would be difficult to have a completely sealed system which never releases into the environment. Levels of wastewater treatment in Scotland are very high, but there is always more that can be done.
CB contributes that it appears from SF’s answer the plan is to manage down the number of releases from its current point.
SF agrees and adds it’s about making improvements and better understanding what happens in our networks through monitoring to ensure they are on top of everything and mitigations are in place when things do go wrong. What is also important is improving the removal of surface water from the network as much as possible. This will all take a significant number of years and investment, but it is possible.
CP adds a few weeks ago SEPA revised their climate change projections for fluvial flood risk and increased the percentages for expected river flows. If there is going to be ever more water in the catchment during rainfall and storm events this will put increased pressure on infrastructure, particularly as the old combined systems already bring together sewerage and surface water. CP explains the situation is going to get every more challenging and local authorities would be appreciative if a plan was to come down from national government as this would require a major restructuring of civil infrastructure to facilitate the stopping of those releases based on the current rainfalls.
SF confirms he would echo much of what CP has said and states Scottish Water are working on blue-green infrastructure to address the issue of increased rainfall and surface water. This isn’t just a matter for Scottish Water, and therefore they are working in partnership with others at various local levels. For example, in Edinburgh Scottish Water are trying to look at certain streetscape projects and working with City of Edinburgh Council to decide how they can reduce surface water from some of the combined sewers.
CB thanks SF and asks if he could update the group every other meeting on any progress that is being made in our local area.
RC adds this issue illustrates we should be working more with nature and it is important this approach is taken throughout the catchment. RC notes it may be useful to ask for larger landowners within catchment what their thoughts are on how we can restrain flows into the river.
CB states he will discuss this proposal with a few landowners to see if they have any interest in this.
Forth Rivers Trust – Nim Kibbler
NK announces Forth Rivers Trust are running a community-based development project called ‘Citizen Esk’. This project will be community led and as such contact has been made with a number of members in the group about forming a community steering group. NK states she would encourage any members of the group to share their thoughts with her about what issues they would like to see more data about or what they would be interested to see on the Esk in order for these ideas to shape the project.
NK reports this month they have met with some community groups and will be doing a formal press launch alongside working on their website. The intention with Citizen Esk is to inspire plenty of community engagement and encourage people to learn more about the Esk. NK confirms there will also be volunteering and citizen science projects to gather data on some of the issues they are seeing on the river.
CB notes Citizens Esk seems to be a big project and will require working with a large number of stakeholders, asks how Forth Rivers Trust is managing that?
NK explains they are not doing a full stakeholder approach to the catchment. It is a community development project which involves working with the local communities along the Esk.
RC adds he is in informal discussions with a number of interests to see how they could shape a broader project, of which Citizen Esk could be a component part. RC states the project would have scientific involvement alongside input from the community.
CB asks if RC could keep the group updated on how these discussions are progressing.
Coal Authority – Annette Lardeur
AL confirms a document has been submitted to Midlothian Council setting out the indicative plans for the scheme. Midlothian Council have asked for a small extension to review the proposals, but they are hoping to receive a response in the coming weeks. That decision will set out the boundaries for the project and will feed into any design work being done.
AL notes she is aware Coal Authority have not done much stakeholder engagement in the past couple of months. This was due to the tenders coming back with much higher costs than anticipated, which in turn has created challenges. AL explains if Coal Authority want to engage with people in the local community it is important they are able to convey the right information about the project. This is a key area being looked at and they are planning to do direct engagement face-to-face with local residents adjacent to the site alongside wider community engagement. AL hopes she will have more details on this work to share with the group at the next meeting.
Over the last couple of months, Coal Authority have been considering their options in terms of how they can absorb these higher costs. AL confirms the conclusion being reached is that in order to absorb these costs they must find a way to reduce the scale of the works they would do. In terms of next steps, Coal Authority are setting up a meeting with SEPA to discuss what they are proposing. In essence, they want to deliver the same outcomes and treat the same volumes to the same quality but look into making small scale alternations.
AL explains that any changes they make to reduce the price would fundamentally reduce the amount of water they could treat, which they don’t believe will be the correct approach. In order to move forward they will realistically need to get further approvals which is currently discussed at a senior management level. Over the coming weeks key decisions on the scheme will be made in order to progress, in parallel they will also be looking at what options they have to mitigate any further delays.
CB states the group would be concern if the volumes the scheme could treat were to be reduced as this would not lead to a good outcome. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like there are any areas where significant costs could be saved.
AL notes the only way to substantially save money would be to reduce the volume, which is the wrong thing to do. However, there are small scale changes being looked at which could reduce some of the costs.
ASK contributes that she is aware the temperature of the mine water coming out of Junkies Adit is around 15 degrees Celsius, wonders if Coal Authority could do something with regards to renewables?
AL explains this is something which is being looked at. There is a lot of promotion about mine energy heat schemes, but in order to make that work they would need to tie this in with other developments. Therefore, it is unlikely they would be able to do something big, but what they could do is build-in the potential for linking in with a similar project in the future.
ASK thanks AL for her response and states it is reassuring that Coal Authority are not looking to reduce the volume of water they could treat.
CB notes he is aware of initiatives on geothermal energy in Midlothian. The Council has a partnership with Vattenfall, who are a Swedish company that have a great deal of experience with these types of projects. CB states it might be worthwhile for Coal Authority to talk to them.
AL advises there has already been in discussions with Vattenfall. Coal Authority are able to produce the mine energy, but there needs to be a source for it which would require getting all other developments aligned. They can allow for uptake if there are other schemes in the future.
PB states SEPA are very supportive of the option not to reduce the amount of water that is being treated and for Coal Authority to seek additional funding. PB adds that SEPA are seeing a seasonal reduction in flow to the River Esk and recognise there has been concerns raised by the community. As the river flows reduce, additional mine water impacts are to be expected during the lower flow months, so visually the orange discolouration could extend further downstream.
Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) – Katrina Wilson
KW reports that SEPA have not received a high number of complaints since the last meeting, notwithstanding a few incidents concerning discolouration on the Esk. KW reminds the group SEPA have an online form to report incidents as well as its 24/7 pollution hotline.
Fish Barriers – KW notes at a previous meeting there was confusion surrounding the names of one of the fish barriers upstream of the bridge at Newmills Road. KW confirms to the group Registers of Scotland have named this as Newbattle Weir. In terms of fish barriers, SEPA are experiencing delays trying to obtain landowner and structure owner agreements at the weirs. Progress has been slow, but they are hoping to advertise the tender for the structural integrity surveys in the coming months.
Fisherrow Sands – out of season monitoring has indicated sources of pollution in the Brunstane Burn. SEPA are planning to monitor the bathing water in near and associated sites during the bathing season and will decide next steps at the end of the season. The plan for the 2022 bathing water season monitoring is being prepared, which will consist of 18 samples taken during that period. The out of season monitoring results are now available and KW happy to circulate with members.
River Esk Pollution incident from 14th January – KW states this continues to be a live criminal investigation and therefore she is limited on the information she can provide to the group at this time. KW advises their ecology team have found the River Esk has recovered quickly, but work does continue in terms of the investigation.
BS asks if SEPA are aware of an incident reported on social media over the weekend of an orange substance in the watercourse at the Electric Bridge in Musselburgh?
PB explains from the images he has seen it appears there is pollen or blossom floating on the river which has been stained orange from the iron ore coming from Junkies Adit.
ASK contributes that in one of the surveys she has seen Dalkeith Weir was labelled the barrier by Newmills Road, whilst Newbattle Weir was by the Sun Inn. However, this has now been clarified by Registers for Scotland.
CB states in relation to the update he provided from RDCC it might be have more weight if SEPA was to approach the Steel Fabrications to discuss the foul-smelling liquid, asks if KW could keep an eye on this.
NK adds that she understands this issue has been reported to SEPA on a number of occasions.
KW asks NK if she is aware if this is a recent issue?
NK notes it has been reported over the past few years, she has spoken to RDCC about his problem during lockdown because they previously conducted an electrofishing survey of the Shiel Burn. NK adds she believes that because the Shiel Burn is already heavily polluted this may have resulted in SEPA’s not prioritising this issue.
East Lothian Council – Shona Grant
CB explains that SG sends her apologies and she will provide a report to be circulated with group.
Musselburgh Flood Protection Scheme – Conor Price
CP confirms he does not have much to update the group regarding progress on the scheme. The Project Team have been overwhelmed with the scale of information they have received over the six-month period of extensive consultation. At the final consultation event alone, many members of the public filled out their questionnaires with huge amounts of information. The Project Team are trying to contemplate all of this information to fully inform East Lothian Council on what the people of Musselburgh think about their proposals in order for them to ensure the next steps are decided on the basis of the evidence they have received.
CP reports the Scheme have appointed a new Stakeholder Project Manager, Rachael Warrington, to increase the scheme’s ability to communicate with the town.
CP explains the Scheme has been setting-up a partnership to work with Dynamic Coast and University of Glasgow to better understand the coastal environment and the potential for natural coastal flood risk reduction solutions within the Scheme. There is a desire from people in the town to try and utilise natural systems within the catchment and the Scheme has been provided a number of key contacts at universities across Scotland who they are currently reach out to.
The Scheme had a meeting with SEPA before Christmas in relation fish passage and the obstruction of weirs within Musselburgh. The question was posed as to whether there is sufficient overlap between the Scheme and those weirs such that multiple benefits can be delivered. SEPA are currently considering this at a strategic level and the Scheme has opened up the conversation through to the Forth Rivers Trust, who CP understands are going to undertake additional survey work for East Lothian Council to better understand the two weirs at Goosegreen and Eskmills, as well as the patch of water in between those weirs to identify if there is any potential for biodiversity, habitat and fish passage improvements which could be achieved within the flood protection scheme.
CP advised the Scheme has been managing the Eskmills Weir for a period of time to assist SEPA and Forth Rivers Trust with obtaining a new CAR licence to protect and minimise the potential for small fish to enter into that watercourse. As such last week the Scheme’s Project Team coordinated a works activity with the support of Forth Rivers Trust and Jacobs to do some maintenance work on the weir gates which was undertaken without any issues. This should mean there will not be any challenges to waterflow into the Mill lade for the summer period.
CP reports a new group is emerging within the Esk catchment who are going to take a lead on managing invasive species above Musselburgh which will be led by James Wylie. He is now forming a new group bringing in some expertise from his previous works on the River Tyne and reaching out to key stakeholders across the catchment. In addition, CP explains two weeks ago a meeting took place of all the key delivery partners who are actively managing invasive species, namely East Lothian Council, Inveresk Village Society, Musselburgh Flood Protection Scheme, the new invasive species group and Midlothian Council. Going forward the intention is to expand this steering group into a larger group working in parallel to ERIG.
CP states SEPA’s guidance on fluvial climate change has changed as of a few weeks ago. The Scheme are currently reaching out to SEPA and Scottish Government in order to understand what they are expecting of a flood protection scheme moving forward. CP explains the Scheme and East Lothian Council will need to be careful in ensuring they are finding the right balance between national advice and the desire of the people of Musselburgh not to have defence which are not too onerous to their environment.
CB notes one issue which he has become increasingly apparent in recent months is the amount of misinformation which seems to be circulating within the town, asks CP if there is an effective way to get the message out that this information is incorrect?
CP explains this is an issue the Scheme have been grappling with over the past year. The Project Team is aware of various streams of misinformation that have been circulating within the community which they find disappointing. They have continued to reiterate that no decision has been made on the form of defences. Within the Scheme’s key communications to the community dating back to January 2020 they have clearly stated that defences on the coastal foreshore greater than 1.4 metres would not be taken forward and therefore there is no scenario where a ‘Berlin wall’ would be constructed within the town. CP notes the Project Team will need to be very clear as to exactly what they are saying moving forward to avoid any ambiguity. The Scheme has also built a number of new communication tools to report through to the town and when key decisions have been made, they will need to state precisely what has been agreed and what is going to happen. Thereafter, if there is further misinformation everybody who has been informed through these communication channels will automatically know if this is not correct.
RC argues CP is suggesting the community has been purposefully mischievous. The displays which he has seen in reference to height of structures have been taken from figures given in community consultations throughout the Autumn by the consultants. RC further reports earlier this year the consultants decided to put an advert in the East Lothian Courier displaying a flood prediction at the bottom of Musselburgh High Street and declared 2,600 properties would be involved. One of the reactions to that was house insurances were immediately increased, by up to 80% in some cases. RC notes he has not met anyone that doesn’t believe there should not be flood protection works along the Esk, but what they want is for an open and transparent discussion. RC believes the action group was established to ensure there was much more dialogue with the town, which he hopes will improve following the appointment of Rachael Warrington.
CP notes that in relation to the area of misinformation he would highlight three examples. The first was misinformation within the town that the Scheme was planning to reopen the Electric Bridge for vehicles. This was incorrect and at no point was this ever stated by the Project Team, notwithstanding there was a lot of fear in New Street and Fisherrow areas that there would be an increase in road traffic in that location. Secondly, there was a fear and misinformation that they were going to remove bridges in the town and not put them back. This was a clear case of misinformation because the Project Team have stated on many occasions that they intend to replace bridges with ones that allow the water to pass through more easily. Finally, in some instances the Project Team did talk about a wall that was 2 metres in height, but along the foreshore the Scheme it was never stated that a wall would be this height. CP explains on the lower part of the Brunstane Burn on the private grounds of Scottish Water the wall will have to be 2 metres high over a short distance due to the asset being on extremely low ground. CP notes he has continually explained this is the only location at present where the form of defence has been decided.
Midlothian Council – Moira Cartwright
MC confirms there are no specific updates from Midlothian Council.
CB asks if SEPA can provide any indication as to whether they have identified the source and the perpetrators of the incident which took place on 14th January?
KW states as this is a live criminal investigation, she is very limited on the information she can provide at this time. It is still a live case within SEPA, and they are continuing with their investigations.
PC notes at a previous meeting a question was raised about the material coming from the sea defences at Morrisons Haven, understands a member from East Lothian Council was going to check this. CP to prompt a response from East Lothian Council representative.
CB thanks all for attending.
Meeting ended 11:20am.
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