John opposes unfiltered sewage plan for Gairloch

Children playing in the water at Gairloch beach.
Children playing in the water at Gairloch beach.
Photo: Gairloch by Kyle Taylor. CC BY 2.0.
John Finnie has spoken out against Scottish Water plans to remove the filtration system from their waste water treatment works at Gairloch, exposing some of the Highland’s best beaches to high quantities of harmful bacteria.

John has lodged a formal objection with the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA), urging them not to grant permission for the downgrade.

The proposal to replace the current membrane filter system with simple septic tanks would result in bacteria from human waste, such as E. Coli, being pumped into the Loch. Scottish Water’s own studies show that the bacteria would make the waters and beaches unfit for bathing up to 3 kilometres from the outflow – an area that includes the much-loved beaches at Gairloch and Big Sand.

John said:

Registry Department, Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, Graesser House, Fodderty Way, Dingwall, IV15 9XB. Thursday 4 August 2016. Dear Sir/Madam,  Fhasaich (Gairloch) Sewage Treatment Works, CAR/L/1002928.  I wish to object to the above application by Scottish Water, which seeks permission to replace the present membrane filtration system with a system of septic tanks.  The applicant describes its proposal as “more sustainable” than the present arrangement, but the accompanying dispersion study demonstrates that it would increase the discharge of faecal coliform in volumes sufficient to render the surrounding beaches unfit for bathing.  Though the beaches at Big Sand and Gairloch are not yet designated bathing waters, they are in fact well-used for swimming and other watersports, and I understand the local community has recently applied for bathing designation. These beaches are important to the local tourist economy, and to the quality of life of local people, and both are well within the 3000m of the outflow within which the Scottish Water dispersal study calculates both the mandatory and guideline standards for designated bathing waters would be breached if the application is granted.  Loch Gairloch boasts two sites on the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s North West Highlands Snorkel Trail, including at Carn Dearg, approximately 1000m from the proposed outflow. At that range the dispersion study calculates the concentration of faecal coliform would exceed the mandatory limit by over 200% (6790/100ml as against a limit of 2000/100ml).  The downgrading of effluent treatment proposed in this application is justified by cost savings alone; there appears to be no suggestion from any party that the proposal represents an improvement in environmental protection.  The greatly increased bacterial pollution that would result from the license variation would be likely to damage the economy of the local area, and the health of both local and tourist users of the Loch. It would also unfairly pre-empt the community’s application for designation as a bathing area.  I believe that these adverse social and economic impacts are more than sufficient to conclude that the application should be denied. Yours sincerely, John Finnie MSP
Click here to read John’s letter of objection to the Gairloch sewage plan (PDF).
“Big Sand was recently voted the best beach in the Highlands, with Gairloch coming in fourth. These beautiful beaches are well-used by tourists and locals alike for swimming, snorkelling, kayaking and other watersports.

“If the proposed downgrade of the sewage works goes ahead, both beaches would be exposed to a volume of dangerous bacteria that would breach the safety limits set for designated bathing areas. This would be particularly unfair given that the community are right now trying to gain designated bathing status for their beaches – this would pre-empt their efforts by spoiling the water before they have a chance to protect it.

“Scottish Water cannot be given permission to endanger the health of bathers, the economy of the community and the quality of life of local people just to save some money. I very much hope that SEPA will recognise the unacceptable cost to the area, and decline this unnecessary and damaging proposal.”