SEPA’s Chief Executive : Pending Bathing Waters designation will be considered over Gairloch sewage treatment concerns

17 August 2016

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency has told Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, that it will carefully consider Gairloch residents’ representations as well as the pending potential Bathing Waters designation before making a decision on new plans for the village’s sewage treatment.

The agency’s Chief Executive Officer, Terry A’Hearn, replied to Mrs Grant after she wrote to him raising the concerns of a number of residents who had written complaining about Scottish Water’s proposals.

The public water authority is planning to spend £800,000 on a new sewage treatment process at Gairloch Wastewater Treatment Works, which serves around 1,000 customers in Wester Ross.

However, several residents have contacted Mrs Grant objecting to the end of a membrane process at the Fhasaich plant which currently produces an effluent which is “virtually” pure and removes harmful bacteria.

They argue a new septic tank system will release untreated effluent into the loch and will downgrade the system, reducing the water quality for bathing, snorkeling, sailing and canoeing—activities important for the tourist trade on which Gairloch heavily depends.

Mrs Grant, who is awaiting a response from Scottish Water, welcomed the assurances from Mr A’Hearn.

“I sincerely hope that the pending Bathing Waters designation will stop these proposals in their tracks,” said Mrs Grant.

“I also hope that Scottish Water will now rethink its plans in the light of public opposition, taking into account the need for clear, clean water around Gairloch and the rest of the Highlands and Islands.

“I support the community and do feel the new proposals would be a backward step for this beautiful, unspoilt part of the country.”

In his letter, Mr A’Hearn, says:

“Following advertisement of the CAR application by Scottish Water, SEPA has received a large number of representations from residents in Gairloch concerned about the proposals.

“In pre-application discussions, SEPA made Scottish Water aware of the Agency’s view that the reduced level of treatment at Gairloch is likely to increase the amount of sewage borne bacteria in the receiving water and, as a consequence, the interests of recreational water users could potentially be affected.

“SEPA is aware that the community at Gairloch are collecting data about the number of people using Big Sands beach to support an application to have the beach designated as a Bathing Waters.

"SEPA will carefully consider these representations and will have due regard of the pending potential Bathing Waters designation, before making a decision on Scottish Water’s application.

“In terms of SEPA’s Policy in relation to these plans, SEPA’s Regulatory Method RM20 contains advice when to advertise applications SEPA receives, where there is a potential for significant quantities of human pathogens is present in a discharge that could affect public health, particularly if the receiving water is important for water based activities.”

Mr A’Hearn continues:

“Aside from the consideration of the human pathogens in the discharge, SEPA will also consider the environmental impact of chemical pollutants in the discharge by assessing the likely quality of the discharge, dilution at the end of the outfall and compliance with environmental standards. Discussions so far have indicated the new outfall is likely to provide sufficient dilution to meet chemical pollutant environmental standards in the water environment.”