Friday 24 November 2017

A fisheries' tale Robin Burn I Eng FIMMM

Introduction by Siân Caiach 
At the end of the 1990's a disastrous decision was made to "upgrade" the sewerage treatment in the Llanelli and North Gower areas which discharged  into the Burry Inlet.(Loughor Estuary) The small settlement plants were closed and all sewage pumped up to Bynea and Gowerton where the foul discharge was treated by UV light. Unfortunately the plants were designed to take "dry" sewage, the assumption was that only sewage was in the sewers. In fact, massive amounts of surface water drained into the sewers and very soon the sewage plant was overwhelmed. Untreated and partially treated sewage was released into the natural waterway in increasing volumes. Huge attenuation tanks were built into the system to try to hold back the huge volumes after rainfall. After a few years the shellfish fishery was severely affected with mass cockle deaths every summer. The most likely cause of this was eutrification, too much fertiliser in the water causing algal blooms and killing the animals by asphyxiation. Not only cockles but other animals who could not move away from the sand banks such as sand eels and lug worms, were decimated. Fearful of  admitting that this was a man made disaster, convinced by the  Carmarthenshire County Council that massive house building was the only development possible in the area, and assured by Welsh Water that they could not  afford to put things right, a Welsh Government led cover up was organised to convince everyone that although there was incontrovertible evidence that the sewage was not being treated, there was some other reason that the cockles were dying.  As a  County Councillor 2008-17 I was told on several occasions that the protests were only about getting compensation for the cockle gatherers and I should not be supporting them. When the Stradey Residents Association reported the matter to the European Commission is was hoped that the  environmental protection of the EU directives would save the day.
Here is Robin Burn's excellent summary of events.

A Fisheries Tale

The Loughor Estuary and Burry Inlet, that part of Carmarthen bay, bounded to the north by the southern coastline of the county of Carmarthen, and to the south by the north shore of the Gower Peninsular is identified by Natural Resources Wales as being environmentally sensitive. To be precise designated as the Carmarthen Bay and Estuaries special area of conservation (SAC),site of special scientific interest (SSSI), the Burry Inlet special protection area (SPA) and is an internationally important wetland site (RAMSAR).

Of  importance for the local economy, the Burry Inlet supports a cockle fishery and  has supported this for many years. So important that  Sian Jenkins Hughes, Fisheries Technical Officer of Natural Resources Wales went so far as to announce that “ Our environment in Wales is the most valuable natural asset we have and we have the potential to generate more for our economy if we use it sustainably”.

This was for the occasion of the launch of Seafish’s Risk Assessment for Sourcing Seafood (RASS) website.

Careful analysis of the content of the website casts doubt however on the viability of the fishery, from the mixed messages delivered in the text .Quoting from the overview of the fishery, it states that “Burry Inlet cockles have been subject to unexplained summer mortalities in recent years(Elliot et al(2012). NRW are currently reviewing the recommendations of the 2012 report with a view to further progress this area of work subject to available resources”.

 It further states “The Burry Inlet Cockle Fishery Order 1965 Management Plan sets out Natural Resources Wales aim to develop a thriving cockle fishery in the Burry Inlet that supports, protects and enhances the needs of the community and the environment upon which it depends to:
 avoid adverse effects on the European designated site and local residents”

In the section designated Stock status quote”The Burry Inlet cockle stock has been scored a moderate risk This is because although the cockles are characterised by relatively low vulnerability ( recent years have seen a declining trend in the population”.
In the  Habitat  subsection it quotes that”The seabed effects of the fishery are scored a very low risk. The Burry Inlet is a European Marine Site designated for nature conservation and the management plan requires avoidance of adverse effects on the site”.

In the Outlook subsection, the website script advise, a moderate stock risk status an uncertain out look on the basis of atypical summer mortality of stocks, the cause of which is still being investigated with emphasis on pathogens and biosecurity.

Following the launch of the website and press release, the September 21st edition of the Llanelli Star reports on a meeting with the Welsh Governments Environment Secretary , Lesley Giffiths, with Llanelli’s MP Nia Griffith and AM Lee Waters, to raise the on-going concerns about the lack of progress to tackle issues facing the cockle industry, of cockle deaths and sewage problems.
A statement from the Welsh Government spokeswoman suggested the previously commissioned investigation found no evidence to suggest pollution in the Burry Inlet waters.

The first indication that all was not well with the handling of waste water in from the urban areas of the northern boundery, the southern coast of Carmarthenshire, from the three rivers estuary at the eastern end to the Burry inlet at the western end, came from a public notice in November of 2008, of a request by Welsh Water/ Dwr Cymru to the then Environment Agency for an application of consent  to discharge sewage in an emergency situation.
At the same time a request for consent to diascharge into Dyfatty Brook from storm sewage overflow at Bryn avenue  CSO in Burry Port was lodged.
At the time emergency sewage  discharge consent was in place in Burry Port from the Heol Vaughan pumping station into the Khymer Canal.

Representations  of concern were made on the 5th of December 2008 to the Envronment Agency, a reply issued by the Agency was made on the 11th of February 2009. The Agency confirmed that “the applications were consented as they are for improvements under the AMP scheme to existing assets in the area. The new pumping station proposal is to replace an existing pumping station and will not discharge under storm conditions. The consent is for discharge in an emergency only.
The application for the combined sewer overflow is to replace two existing combined sewer overflows in the area. The new overflow will have extra storage and limit the spill frequency to one spill a year.

In the period between the 5th of August, until the 9th of November 2008 ,three heavy rainfall events occurred, that resulted in prolonged spillages of 4.5 hours in August,a 20 hour spill in September, and a 36 hour spill on the 9th of November.
In 2009 the accolade of a blue flag beach standard for Cefn Sidan was not awarded.

As a result of the November 2008 recorded spillages, Dr Lewis Keil was invited to attend the November19th. 2008 Pembrey & Burry Port Town Council meeting.
Members informed Dr Keil ,that they were very concerned, that, there had been eleven recorded spills at the Khymer Canal since January, especially as the canal is inert, and located in an area used for local events, and surrounded by properties. These spillages had occurred since the pumping station was upgraded and before completion of the new development at Chandlers Yard where there are already problems with the sewage system.
Dr Keil agreed that spillage levels were too high, he stated that, combined overflows which discharge are normal,but were not anticipated at the Khymer Canal, as models approved by the Environment Agency, had predicted one spill a year.
On the 6th of January 2009 Dr Keil, after the November 2008 meeting, wrote to the Council. In his letter he wrote” I had advised of the complete refurbishment of the Ashburnham sewage pumping that was due in summer 2008. Despite this work being undertaken, there were spills in September, October and November 2008”, he also “advised that it was difficult to see what else can be done to reduce spills.”
Finally he offers that”In the short term, the designers are checking the system to see if adjustment of the pump trigger levels can be altered to reduce the number of the storm spills. If this is not successful then a very costly alternative,such as piping storm sewage to the estuary, would be required to solve the problem.

On the 5th of February 2009, a call for a ministerial meeting on water quality, in the Burry Inlet, calling for action through the assembly, and Europe, following the disappointing news that the Blue Flag award, had been withdrawn from Cefn Sidan beach. The loss of the award had increased local concerns about water treatment, and the impact of large scale housing developments on the insufficient and over used water treatment works during periods of heavy rainfall. The local Assembly Member had arranged to meet the Minister for the Environment on the 11th of February to express concerns. A meeting with the Member of the European Parliament, had also called a meeting to discuss the level of concerns of the estuary.
On the 12th of February the then Environment Agency Wales, reacting to the February the 5th press release, in a Position Statement offered the following comments “It is important to know that combined drainage systems such as those in Burry Port pumping station are deliberately designed to allow discharges to the sea or rivers under certain controlled conditions.
During heavy rainfall, the pumps cannot pass forward all the sewage to the sewage treatment works, and the dilute sewage is allowed to overflow into the sea or the river. This storm sewage as it is called, is screened and requires a licence (called a consent), from the Environment Agency which contains conditions that Dwr Cymru Welsh Water must adhere to.
If the combined drainage system was not able to operate like this, then under heavy rainfall conditions, it is likely that domestic and residential properties, would flood with sewage.” 

Setting aside the assertions of the various regulatory authorities, whose responsibility is to maintain the directives, in reality the situation cannot be further from the actuality, that, on March the 26th 2015 the European Court ruled that the Government of the United Kingdom was in breach of the Urban Water Treatment Directive at Llanelli, and Gowerton, and is awaiting a judgement to be handed down by the Court.
The European Court judgement is the culmination of several years of investigations, discussions by various lobby groups to determine the truth behind the observations of many individuals, that all was not well in terms of fishery expectations, and that the well being of the estuary and the inlet was far from being healthy.
In May 2017the European Court finally handed down the ruling but did not fine the United Kingdom for the breach of the Urban Water Treatment directive. 

This case shows how toothless the EU environmental regulations can be.They rely on the local governments to uphold them, local people to report problems and can be soft on breaches. In this case the European Court took almost 10 years to rule on pollution in the Burry Inlet. A ruling of guilt against the UK  brought censure but no punishment. Welsh Water cannot afford to install new treatment facilities and are currently digging up central Llanelli to put in new drains to separate ground water drainage from the sewers. Spills continue and the cockles have not recovered. No wonder the people of Llanelli voted to leave the European Union!

Robin Burn

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