After Scottish Water pumps raw sewage into rivers 10,000 times in a year, SNP hands out fat-cat bonuses – Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP

I used to think river pollution was something from a bygone era. I imagined the dark satanic mills of the Industrial Revolution or the open sewers of previous centuries spewing poison into our rivers had been consigned firmly to the past.

The River Almond is beautiful but untreated sewage was dumped into the water hundreds of times last year (Picture: Greg Macvean)
The River Almond is beautiful but untreated sewage was dumped into the water hundreds of times last year (Picture: Greg Macvean)

I’d blithely assumed that, as with so many other areas of environmental protection, we had drastically cleaned up our act. Oh boy was I wrong.

It transpires that Scotland’s government-owned water company, Scottish Water, is dumping untreated human waste into our rivers more than 30 times a day.

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Research gathered by investigative journalists at The Ferret revealed raw sewage was deliberately discharged into Scottish watercourses over 10,000 times last year. This may be just the tip of the iceberg as Scottish Water only monitors about three per cent of sewage release points.

There has rightly been huge criticism of Conservative ministers for overseeing sewage dumping in England, yet the picture here is even bleaker.

The response from the Scottish Government to these revelations is almost as astonishing as the findings themselves. When the SNP environment minister was challenged on this disgusting practice, she described it as “vital”. Even more astoundingly, when I asked the First Minister about this, she told me she had “not seen the investigation”. It is clear they have no intention of even trying to stop it.

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We’re talking about thousands of gallons of excrement, wet wipes and sanitary towels being flushed into the rivers that course through Scotland’s natural beauty spots every single day.

Take the River Almond in Edinburgh. On any given day otters, fish, dogs and even children will play in that beautiful river, and yet untreated sewage has been dumped into the water there hundreds of times.

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Adding insult to injury, the government is actually rewarding those who run Scottish Water with handsome, fat-cat bonuses. Last year, its chief executive took home a whopping £92,000 bonus cheque, on top of a £267,000 salary.

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Leaving aside the debate around whether a public servant should be netting this level of cash at all, given the crap that they are literally pumping into our rivers, it feels like the SNP/Green government is rewarding bad behaviour.

The discharge of sewage into our rivers happens when the system is overloaded. I’ve written before about how climate change has come to manifest itself in Scotland as a new monsoon season which visits upon us a deluge of biblical proportions several times a year. The drain network was never built to accommodate either the amount of water we now use in our daily lives, nor the tropical-style rainstorms we’ve come to expect.

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In short, we cannot keep meeting the result of one type of environmental catastrophe by causing another. We can’t just accept sewage release into our rivers as a necessary evil to relieve a system choked by the floods of climate change.

It was only ever designed as an overflow to relieve the system when flooding was exceptional. When it happens 10,000 times a year, it’s no longer exceptional, it’s commonplace.

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Our rivers are part of our natural heritage, we hold them in trust and they are vital to the ecosystems of our country and our planet. The Scottish Government must step in and act to stop this.

Alex Cole-Hamilton is Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh Western