A river under pressure

With the COP26 conference is about to get underway we have been thinking about the work our river does for the city and its residents. However this summer the Water of Leith has been under great pressure and its beginning to show - could this be a consequence of climate change?

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As the COP26 conference is about to get underway we have been thinking about the work our river does for the city and its residents – providing a recreational space, a home for wildlife and fish, sanitation, flood alleviation, nutrient and water cycling, cooling, a carbon storage to name but a few. But this summer our river has been under great pressure and its beginning to show.

A number of incidents combined with very low rainfall and river levels has lead to dramatic images of bare river beds and an algal bloom in Leith.

During a site visit to Coalie Park in Leith on 22nd September Trust Manager Helen was alarmed by the colour of the river and the smell of sulphur. In her 19 years of working on the Water of Leith she has never seen this before. Suspecting an algal bloom SEPA were contacted and samples taken to the laboratory for testing. Fortunately it was NOT the potentially toxic ‘blue green’ algae you sometimes hear reported on but a higher than normal concentration of Euglena algae. This was probably caused by the very low water levels, high nutrient levels and the unseasonably warm weather we had been experiencing most of the summer. Thankfully a cold wet snap saw the bloom die and disperse. Was this a consequence of climate change?

The one benefit of the low river levels was that we have be able to clean-up rubbish from parts of the river previously inaccessible often removing ‘historical’ debris which had been there for decades, but this is not normal conditions for the river and can put a big stress on its wildlife.

Edinburgh’s sewage system is also under pressure – the continued development of our city (especially its greenspaces), under investment in the drainage and sewer network and the flushing of wipes down toilets, unfortunately means that the system cannot always cope. Especially when there are sudden rainfall events and flooding, which are becoming all to common. And where does this water and sewage go if it does not back up into our homes – that’s right into the Water of Leith. We have reported dozens of issues to SEPA and Scottish Water over the past 6 months – often the same issue at the same site – this blown manhole is right outside the centre as has been reported 6 times!. The summer also saw a major problem arise with the sewer pipe under the river in the Belford area. After much encouragement Scottish Water are now onsite investigating and repairing the pipe – more details can be found – https://www.scottishwater.co.uk/In-Your-Area/Investments-in-Your-Area/Water-of-Leith-Belford-Place

So as the world sits down to discuss how we can reduce our emissions and help our planet recover – do not forget about your river, the impacts are being felt here and now and here at the Trust the following key principle’s are at the heart of our work:

  • Reducing Carbon Production
  • Locking Up Carbon
  • Creating a Healthy Ecosystem
  • Helping Nature Adapt

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