The Environment Agency was unable to determine the source of toxic pollution in the vicinity of Windermere.
A report conducted independently on the Environment Agency’s investigation of a stream that feeds into Windermere has revealed several mistakes made by the agency regarding serious pollution.
Due to this, the organization was unable to determine the source of the poisonous occurrence that resulted in the death of all organisms in the waterway.
According to the organization WildFish, a report obtained through freedom of information laws reveals that the Environmental Agency did not adequately investigate a significant pollution incident in the summer of 2022. This incident had a devastating impact on Cunsey Beck, which is designated as a site of special scientific interest, resulting in the death of numerous fish.
Save Windermere, a campaign group, claims that these revelations are vital proof of the inadequate regulation by the Environment Agency in the Cumbria and Lancashire area. On Monday, they started a petition demanding an independent investigation into this agency, the resignation of its board, and proper oversight and monitoring of the water company United Utilities.
The Environmental Agency has classified the contamination of the stream that flows into England’s biggest lake and a designated area of natural beauty as a level 1 pollution incident, the highest severity level. They have reported that there is a high probability that all organisms in the river have perished.
However, the critical results of the separate evaluation conducted by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, which was requested by the EA but never made public, reveal significant deficiencies in the agency’s investigative process. These deficiencies consist of:
There is no organized method for investigating and identifying potential sources that need to be eliminated.
The lack of recorded witness statements.
There are only a few designated spots for taking samples on Cunsey Beck.
Neglecting to perform postmortem examinations on deceased fish.
The SEPA team was unable to dismiss the possibility that the cause could have been determined if the EA investigation had obtained further evidence. They also added that the investigation did not meet SEPA’s standards for an incident of this nature.
The stream flows directly into Windermere, which is facing the consequences of pollution from multiple origins. A significant amount of phosphorus entering the lake is a result of untreated and treated sewage being released from wastewater treatment facilities.
In the previous month, The Guardian reported that there were approximately 70 instances of suspected illegal disposal of untreated sewage into Lake Windermere in 2022. This year was notable for having one of the worst summer seasons for toxic algal blooms, according to activists.
The Environmental Agency’s inquiry into the contamination was unsuccessful in determining the cause of an identified harmful incident. However, the agency eliminated a discharge from the Near Sawrey wastewater treatment outfall as the culprit, which is operated by United Utilities and discharges into the beck.
After conducting an independent evaluation, SEPA determined that the EA investigators did not collect enough evidence to rule out the possibility of discharges from the water treatment works as a factor in the incident.
The findings indicated that the EA should have traced the source of the affected area, located at Eel House Bridge 1.5km downstream from the UU treatment facility, by methodically moving upstream.
According to Matt Staniek, the creator of the Save Windermere campaign, the Environment Agency’s ongoing inability to properly oversee United Utilities is a concerning issue. In his view, they have not fulfilled their legal responsibilities to safeguard Windermere and its surrounding streams, resulting in the exploitation of our lake. This negligence leaves them vulnerable to being accused of incompetence or possibly even worse.
According to the SEPA report, the EA did not collect any proof, such as pictures, videos, or a testimony from the individual who reported the pollution. They also did not gather any evidence from someone who saw a blue tanker in the vicinity or from the drivers of sludge removal tankers on the day in question. Additionally, the report revealed that the EA investigators did not obtain any environmental evidence, including samples, from Cunsey Beck and Out Dubs Tarn located between the wastewater treatment facility’s outlet and Eel Bridge.
According to the SEPA report, the EA investigation documentation did not specify the location where numerous deceased fish were discovered and no specimens were gathered for examination.
James Overington, a water policy officer at WildFish, expressed his disappointment with the way the agency handled the investigation of Cunsey Beck. He described the agency’s actions as careless, irrational, and unscientific. WildFish’s Freedom of Information request revealed numerous mistakes, which was alarming. Sadly, this is not an isolated case as the agency has a track record of neglecting their duties nationwide.
If an EA is not adequately funded, instances of pollution, such as the one in Cunsey, will persist and those responsible will face no consequences for their actions.
A representative from United Utilities stated that they thoroughly inspected all wastewater systems in the area during the incident and are confident that their operations were not the cause.
The Environment Agency representative stated that they are committed to safeguarding the environment and will thoroughly investigate any cases of severe pollution. They will also take strict measures against those who fail to comply with regulations or deliberately hinder the investigation. In June 2022, the agency received reports of dead fish and discolored water at Cunsey Beck. After carefully examining the evidence, their officials determined that an algal bloom in Esthwaite Water was the probable cause.
As a result of the severity of this event and our inability to determine a definite cause, we requested SEPA to evaluate our handling of the situation. We acknowledge that there were areas for improvement and have taken steps to enhance our monitoring of water quality in the affected region. This includes the implementation of sensors that provide real-time monitoring of river quality. Additionally, we have shared our findings with the Environment Agency, which is now influencing how we respond to incidents and regulate water companies.