Gairloch sewage treatment works

SEPA’s statutory purpose is to protect and improve Scotland’s environment, which includes maintaining the quality and integrity of our coastal waters and the marine habitats they sustain.

In May 2016, Scottish Water applied to SEPA for a variation to the licence which covers the existing treatment process for discharges from the Gairloch Sewage Treatment Works (STW) into Loch Gairloch.

For more detail on why Scottish Water decided to make the application, see - Gairloch Waste Water Treatment Works Improvements - Scottish Water

The application was for a septic tank discharge, which was first advertised in July 2016. This application was subsequently amended by Scottish Water to a septic tank discharge with provision of an ultraviolet treatment process during the bathing water season (May – September) and an extension of the outfall pipe, which was re-advertised in August 2017.

Following a thorough assessment of Scottish Water’s application, SEPA recently finalised its proposed determination of the application (28 February, 2018) to approve the changes in the treatment process and to the outfall pipe position.  

Members of the public who responded to SEPA with written representations during the application process have been provided with details of the decision, which is available to view in full – SEPA’s decision letter.

Those who responded to the consultation had the opportunity to make final representations to Scottish Ministers by 20 March, 2018.

On 12 April, 2018, Scottish Water withdrew their application to change the treatment to allow for further engagement with the local community.  

Regulation

Sewage discharges from the Gairloch STW - like any activity with the potential to cause pollution of the water environment - must be carefully controlled and managed to prevent harm to that environment.

SEPA assesses pollution control  through the Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Regulations 2011 – more commonly known as the Controlled Activity Regulations (CAR) – and their further amendments.

The aim of pollution control is to protect the water environment from any potential harm caused by discharges of pollutants. SEPA takes account of a wide range of factors which can place pressure on the water environment and marine habitats when controlling pollution.

Appendix 1 of SEPA’s decision letter provides a detailed account of the assessment undertaken at Loch Gairloch.  

For a more general overview of CAR, our introduction to the regulations summarises the main features across all aspects of protecting the water environment.

CAR Licence variation process

The application process to vary the conditions of a CAR Licence can be lengthy. It considers the likely impacts on the water environment from detailed proposals made by the operator and includes a period of advertisement and consultation. This is followed by a final determination stage which considers all representations made by interested parties.  

A brief timeline of the application by Scottish Water to vary the treatment at Gairloch STW is outlined below:

  • 24 May, 2016 – Scottish Water submit application to vary the licence for Gairloch STW.

  • 8 July, 2016 – The application is advertised in the Ross-Shire Journal and Edinburgh Gazette, inviting public consideration. 63 representations were received.

  • 21 March 2017 – Two new bathing water designations were made at Gairloch Beach and Sand Beach.

  • 3 July 2017 – Amended application information was provided by Scottish Water.

  • 29 August, 2017 – Second advertisement of Scottish Water application for public consultation. 34 representations received.

  • 28 February, 2018 - SEPA’s proposed decision to approve Scottish Water’s application, based on a thorough assessment of the detailed proposals including those relevant issues raised in public representations.

  • 20 March, 2018 – Deadline for final representations to Scottish Ministers.

  • 12 April, 2018 - Scottish Water withdraws application to allow for further engagement with the local community.

SEPA response to media coverage

12 April, 2018

Anne Anderson, Chief Officer from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), said:

“We note the decision by Scottish Water to withdraw their application and look forward to discussing options to ensure that the water quality of Loch Gairloch remains protected.”

March 2018

A short video from Paul Griffiths, Unit Manager for the Hebrides and West Highlands, explains the recent decision to approve the proposal by Scottish Water for water treatment at Gairloch Sewage Treatment Works. 

Statement issued to local media:

Anne Anderson, Chief Officer, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, said:

“Every day SEPA works to protect and enhance Scotland’s environment, including Loch Gairloch.

“Since May 2016, SEPA has been scrutinising a proposal by Scottish Water for water treatment at Gairloch Sewage Treatment Works. SEPA experts in water quality have assessed the impact of the proposed treatment system and are satisfied that an appropriate level of protection is in place for the designated bathing waters and wildlife habitats.

“There will be no deterioration in the “good” status of Loch Gairloch as a result of the Scottish Water proposals, with enhanced treatment during bathing waters season (June to September) protecting the ‘excellent’ status of the bathing waters at Sand Beach and Gairloch Beach. Any suggestion that sewage will be untreated is inaccurate.

“Maintaining this enhanced level of treatment for a full 12 months would result in other impacts such as increased use of energy and materials, and would not be consistent with standards applied at other comparable locations across Scotland.

“As part of the application for the licence variation SEPA carefully considered a number of written representations. Those who made representations have been provided with details of the proposal to grant the application and have the opportunity to make final representations to Scottish Ministers.”

Frequently asked questions


Why has SEPA approved this application?

A core element of SEPA’s role is to ensure our water environment is safeguarded from the various factors which could cause pollution.

Pollution control is managed by the Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Regulations 2011 more commonly known as the Controlled Activities Regulations (CAR). The aim of pollution control is to protect the water environment from any potential harm caused by discharges of pollutants. SEPA takes account of a wide range of factors which can place pressure on the water environment and marine habitats when controlling pollution.

Following a thorough assessment of Scottish Water’s application to vary the CAR licence and having given consideration to the written representations from members of the public, SEPA is satisfied that the proposed changes to the treatment system will cause no deterioration in the water quality of Loch Gairloch or impact on the Bathing Water classification of Sand Beach or Gairloch Beach during the Bathing Water season.

Details of our decision to approve Scottish Water’s proposal, are available to view in full here.

Will the changes by Scottish Water result in untreated sewage being discharged to Loch Gairloch?

Absolutely not - sewage discharges will still be treated all year round, with an enhanced level of treatment during the bathing water season.  

Will water quality in Loch Gairloch be downgraded as a result of the change in treatment?

There will be no deterioration in the “Good” water quality standard already achieved by the water body or the “Excellent” bathing water classification during the designated bathing water season (1 June – 15 September).

Under the proposals, the enhanced treatment to maintain an “Excellent” bathing Water standard for Loch Gairloch, will only be provided to ensure that this is achieved during the bathing water season.

Why is it acceptable that the sewage is not treated to a higher standard all year round, when the waters are used all year round?

The sewage will continue to be treated year round. The treatment level proposed by Scottish Water is comparable with similar coastal communities across Scotland, including those with similarly valued bathing waters and where communities use the wider water environment for recreational purposes year round.

More detail on Scotland’s bathing waters can be found on the Scottish Government website and SEPA’s bathing water pages.

How can SEPA be confident that this application won’t result in harm to the local environment?

The licence for the new Sewage Treatment Works will include numerical limits on the amounts of bacteria in the final effluent (these limits being applicable during the bathing waters season).

Monitoring of bathing water quality at both beaches, which started following designation in 2017, will take place on a regular basis during each bathing season. This monitoring helps to detect any potential drop in water quality, the cause of which would be thoroughly be investigated.

Other conditions within SEPA’s licence, which will apply all year round, are designed to prevent deterioration in general water quality throughout Loch Gairloch.

What’s the difference between “good water quality” and “excellent bathing water quality”?

These are two separate classifications of water quality which are easily confused and used interchangeably. SEPA’s objective is to prevent deterioration in both classifications.

The ‘Excellent’ water quality refers specifically to the two designated bathing waters at Sand Beach and Gairloch Beach, as classified under the Bathing Waters Directive. Enhanced treatment using an ultraviolet treatment process will be provided between May to September to maintain this excellent classification of these bathing waters during the bathing season.

The ‘Good’ standard refers to the classification of Loch Gairloch as a whole, under the Water Framework Directive, which applies all year round. The sewage works final discharge will be treated to maintain this quality all year round.

Are the beaches at Gairloch ‘Blue Flag’ beaches?

No. The Blue Flag is an internationally recognised award, administered by the Foundation for Environmental Education. For more details of UK beaches awarded Blue Flag status in 2018, see Blue Flag Award Beaches 2018 | UK Beach Guide

Both beaches do feature in the UK Beach Guide, and both beaches have Green Coast Awards.