- Posted by: Canterbury Labour
- Category: Latest News
Yesterday evening Directors of Southern Water answered questions from members of the public and local councillors for over three and a half. Cllr Val Kenny and Chris Cornell posed questions submitted by SOS Whitstable, the Whitstable Fisherman’s Association and local residents. You can watch the whole meeting back here but to save time here’s the five things I think we learnt:
Water Quality Monitoring is coming
Southern Water have purchased a water quality monitoring buoy which will be placed in the swimming area on Tankerton Beach from next summer. The buoy will present real time data on water quality every fifteen minutes on a publicly accessible website and go a substantial way to explain just how diluted the effluent in our sea is. It was one of Labour’s key asks in October 2021 and is very welcome.
Concern was raised about non-laboratory led citizen science projects that test for the presence of E-Coli in our waters without rigour. It was highlighted how these tests fan the fear of poor water quality directly hampering sales of fish from the harbour. Southern Water clearly believe that E-Coli testing needs DNA speciation so that people can be clear whether contamination comes as a result of sewage discharge, people using the sea or surface run off. They also alluded to a number of Combined Sewage Overflows (CSO’s) not being under their jurisdiction which requires more exploration.
This type of DNA specification is difficult to do but Southern Water have a number of handheld E-Coli monitoring kits which they are happy to make available to SOS Whitstable for use. I managed to get them to commit to holding a meeting with SOS about how they could support them in using these.
Swalecliffe is due for more investment
In November we were able to confirm that Swalecliffe was confirmed as one of the five pathfinder projects with Southern Water intend to invest in over the next two years. Yesterday we learnt that in total they expect to spend £26m on the Treatment Plant and catchment as part of an effort to prove that investment slowing down the flow of surface water from roofs and roads can reduce the use of CSO’s – they have set themselves a target of an 80% reduction by 2030 and this effort is being run by Dr Nick Mills.
Early studies of the Swalecliffe Catchment now revealed that the areas with the highest surface impermeability, contributing over 70% to the surface run off problem, are located largely in Tankerton off the Tankerton High Street and around Island Wall/Nelson Road.
They plan to publish the findings of this hydrographic study and their study of misconnections (where sewage and waste water are connected in a single pipe) in April with a public consultation planned for June/July on how they propose to fix the problem. There was widespread support that the plans plans to seek natural solutions (i.e. green roofs, new on street tree planting, drainage ditches, semi permeable road surfaces and small scale water storage through water butts) and not see bigger concrete boxes built at all of their treatment plants.
Southern Water are going to start introducing some of the quick wins (increasing pipe capacity, fixing missed connections) immediately from March but were sketchy on how some of the more substantial works would be costed. Under questioning they referred to a project in White City where the cost of was shared 50/50 between the Water Company and Councils. Click here to read more.
Staggeringly Southern Water admitted that they didn’t actually regularly collect or publish samples of the water coming out of their CSO’s during an release – they do however have information on the quality of water flowing into the sewage plant and should be able to extrapolate the quality of water in CSO’s by dividing this by the flow rate they have when the system is overwhelmed. I got agreement that Southern Water would release this information for Swalecliffe, giving us an indication as to the extent of dilution you could expect to normal sewage when discharged into the sea.
They also indicated that all waste going out of Swalecliffe Number 1 is treated with UV meaning that the E-Coli in this outflow is less than others and explaining why it is perhaps most used.
The Beach Buoy review is underway
Beach Buoy is the system Southern Water use to inform local residents that untreated sewage has been pumped into the sea. In the autumn they launched a review of the service with the intention of using it to include more information on water quality. Their intention was to rate spills taking into consideration additional modelling about tidal flows and weather conditions.
Yesterday they announced that the new version will begin development from late February and be available before the Summer. The system will update hourly rather than every two hours like it currently does and they are working on updates every fifteen minutes (technology permitting).In order to give the public confidence in the way in which they will score potential releases Southern Water have agreed to provide local pressure groups with detailed maps and modelling for each of the CSO’s which they can use to help deal with pictures of faecal shared with them on social media. I will be making sure this happens.
Fisherman and local businesses have largely been frozen out
Rosie Duffield met with the Chair of the Whitstable Fisherman Association, Chris Attenborough, last Friday to explore the tangible impact which the sewage emissions have had on trade – councillors of all parties were clear that Southern Water has damaged the reputation of fleet. Questions submitted by James Green revealed that the Oyster Fishery Company has not restarted exporting to Hong Kong after its stocks were withdrawn from sale last July 2021 on public health grounds. Southern Water were unable to answer how fisherman would be financially compensated and why they had consistently failed to responds to their queries and calls for a meeting.
After Rosie’s team got involved Southern Water have started an investigation into a claim from the Environment Agency that there is a leak from the Gorrell Stream Outlet into the Harbour and that this is potentially behind a recent and unexpected increase in the amount of seaweed in the area.
I managed to get Southern Water to publicly commit to a member of the Fisherman joining the stakeholder group myself and Cllr Neil Baker sit on with Southern Water. They also agreed to me arranging a meeting between the fisherman and Director Laurence Gosden in the next month.
Local building needs to change
There was widespread agreement from Southern Water that the council needs to be more concerned about sustainable drainage when agreeing new housing developments. In December Labour collected over 750 signatures on a petition asking the council to commit to new houses being ‘water neutral’ and introduce clearer expectations on water usage in the planning permission process.
Southern Water were pushed to acknowledge that they don’t think any schemes should receive permission unless they are able to prove that residents will use less than 100 litres per person per day – the current average is 150l. They agreed with the idea that tap aerators, soakaways, permeable paving, rainwater harvesting systems and attenuation ponds should be at the forefront of our Local Plan. We wait to see if the Council listen to this call.
They acknowledged that as 80% of the homes that we will have in 2050 have already been built, we need to consider how we can recondition existing stock – including our social housing. Labour will be pushing for a water neutrality standard to be taken forward in future redevelopment of their councils own housing stock.
There were several questions from Cllr Mel Dawkins about the impact of investment from Macquarie Asset Management Group on Southern Water and there poor practice elsewhere.
After three long hours I was remain sceptical of Southern Water, optimistic about the movement on water quality testing and assured that as local councillors we are working hard to keep them honest, accessible to the public and focussed on delivering change.