Dozens of sewage spills in Water of Leith reported to SEPA

14 Aug 2023

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP has today called on regulators and the Scottish Government to clean up Edinburgh’s waterways after it emerged that sewage in the Water of Leith has been reported to Scotland’s environmental watchdog dozens of times in the past five years.

While there is currently no permanent monitoring of sewage overflow points on the Water of Leith or anywhere else in Edinburgh, freedom of information requests submitted by Scottish Liberal Democrats have now revealed that 73 sewage incidents were raised with the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) since the start of 2018.

This will be an underestimate as figures from May 2020-June 2022 are unavailable due to disruption to systems and working practices caused by a 2020 criminal cyber-attack against SEPA. The figures will also not include incidents which were raised with Scottish Water but not with SEPA.

These incidents include sewage overflowing from unmonitored sewage overflow pipes “constantly for a number of months” and sewage spilling into areas regularly used by otters, swans and eider ducks.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader and Edinburgh Western MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton said:

“These incident reports show local people taking it upon themselves to highlight the filthy consequences of sewage spilling into a beautiful waterway and flowing across our capital city.

“I was shocked when I found out that no monitoring of sewage spillage was taking place in Edinburgh.

“SEPA have had dozens of warnings but it’s clear that we need proper monitoring and an acceleration of measures to upgrade Scotland's Victorian sewage systems.

“At the moment in England almost every sewage overflow is monitored but in Scotland it's only a small fraction.”

Leith Walk councillor Jack Caldwell said:

“The Water of Leith is a haven for wildlife and a popular destination for walkers, wheelers, joggers and families.

“SEPA and Scottish Water need to outline what steps they are taking to ensure that it remains a pleasant place for everyone. That starts with proper monitoring of sites which have repeatedly spilled sewage into our waterways.”