This week representatives from campaign group, the MP’s office and myself sat down with Southern Water. Almost a year since the summer we would all rather forget saw raw sewage dumped into our seas, our fishermen’s export licences revoked and huge public protests – the issue is certainly better but not fixed.
Only last week the papers were full of stories highlighting how raw sewage has been discovered flowing into the harbour via the Gorrell Tank and the subterranean Gorrell stream which runs below our feet.
Given the level of concern still in our town I thought it might be best to update people on what I learnt:
- Works to the Swalecliffe treatment works are still ongoing. Since our first meetings with Southern Water back in November last year, the introduction of a new real time odour monitoring system and replacement of the media they use to scrub the air clean has seen an improvement for residents. A new electronic gate with automatic number plate recognition is due to be installed in June and will prevent tankers queuing in Brook Drive as much.
- Attempts are still being made to improve the efficiency of water treatment on site. The outfall which flows from the site into the Brook was capped back in January meaning that water can now no longer flow onto Long Rock SSSI. A second historic outflow was also identified and capped. A variable drive is being added to the pumping station at Brook Drive which will go a long way to smooth the peaks of water flowing into site. It is these peaks that then trigger the use of the short sea outfall – modelling suggests that this could result in up to a 70pc drop in use of combined sewage outflows (CSO’s). Staff remain on site 24 hours a day.
- Remedial works to Long Rock has been agreed with the Environment agency. Southern Water have committed to adding a gravel bed (used by fish to lay eggs) to 1km of the Gorrell stream up on Duncan Downs. They will pay for new educational boards at Long Rock and carry out biannual fish/plant surveys and annual invertebrate sampling. Woody debris used by eels, lampreys, and trout, is to be added to the area around the culvert. Southern Water are working with the council on plans for the culvert which might prevent water from the brook pooling behind the shingle until high tide when it can be released – however there is disagreement as to whether this is advantageous of not.
- Summer will see more data. A real time water monitoring buoy is going to be deployed by the end of July at the edge of the Tankerton swimming section. Calibration of the tool starts in mid July down by the shoreline – information from it will be on the council and Southern Water’s website. Beach Buoy (the app used by swimmers) to identify when waste water has been released if going to include tidal information and maps from August which should help people understand better how the tide disperses releases. Southern Water have the long term goal of extending Beach Buoy to monitor its inland CSO’s and reduce reporting to less than 60 mins from flow – it currently sits at 2 hours and was 4 hours in arrears last summer.
- Citizen Science is on its way. Whilst local campaign groups have been involved in some e-coli testing this exercise is largely useless unless the data is of a high quality and trusted by Southern Water to trigger remedial action. We have thus persuaded Southern Water to buy a Fluidion sampling kit (similar to those used by its own teams) which will be loaned to SOS Whitstable for its use and training provided to ensure results are taken accurately – information collected here will be fed directly into public data banks.
- A new short sea outfall is planned for be dug in April 2024. The need for permits and the fact that work can only be carried out April-September is the reason for the delay. The new outfall with has almost double the capacity and flow a further 300m further out to sea. The improved capacity should see the use of other flows along the coast (ie Tankerton 1, Gorrell 2) reduce. The pipe will be floated in and then a barge carrying diggers will cut 0.4m into the seabed.
- Missed connections are at fault for the recent flows into the Gorrell Tank – houses which were built and never attached to the sewage network that now discharge directly into the underground stream. To identify the problem a series of metal cages have been deployed across the catchment and are being regularly checked for rag or contamination. When a specific area of tributary has been identified Southern Water will use cameras to check connections and work with the council’s building control team to force landlords or owners to make good their wastewater disposal. It’s a long exercise but interesting to note that some of the contamination of shellfish may not have been from the CSO outflows as previously assumed. The first missed connections have been discovered in and around Sydney Road.
- A plan for slowing the flow of water through the catchment will go out to Public Consultation at the end of June. Southern Water are willing to invest in ways to reduce surface run off with the potential for incentivised replacement of driveways with permeable alternatives, grey water harvesting of water on large industrial units and better use of green areas to retain water discussed.
Communication with this group and the local community definitely needs to improve to improve trust on all side and as such we have demanded a full programme of future meetings for the year, a dedicated email address to report smells with a standing report on the resolution of such complaints and a detailed breakdown of progress with missed connections before the summer.
Southern Water committed to a public meeting to discuss the initial proposals they have for the catchment before September 2022. As always I’ll aim to keep you posted and everyone honest, as always.