West Princes Street Gardens: Sewage flooded Edinburgh park after pipes 'overwhelmed' during storm, water experts say

Waste water and excrement could well have leaked into one of Edinburgh’s central parks after the city’s sewerage network was “overwhelmed” during recent extreme rainfall, Scottish Water has said.

Wednesday, 14th July 2021, 5:08 pm
Updated Wednesday, 14th July 2021, 6:30 pm

Instead of sunbathers soaking up the rays in some of the warmest weather of the year, West Princes Street Gardens was closed to locals on Wednesday for a major clean-up operation after sewage and rain water flooded the park during a storm more than a week ago.

On July 4, the equivalent of two thirds of the average monthly rainfall fell in parts of Edinburgh in just one hour, putting immense pressure on the city’s drainage and sewerage systems.

Speaking to the Edinburgh Evening News, a spokeswoman for Scottish Water confirmed crews were investigating damage caused by surcharges from the sewer network, adding: “At times of severe heavy rainfall the network can be overwhelmed and anything in that sewer could be contained in the localised flooding.”

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The spokeswoman said the recent heavy downpours in Edinburgh caused levels of flooding “beyond Scottish Water’s control”.

The company apologised for any inconvenienced caused to those wishing to use the park and explained the public space was due to reopen on Friday.

In response to the damage caused, Edinburgh City Council said the Capital’s drainage and sewerage systems were not built to withstand downpours as seen on July 4, adding that it was developing a water management plan to prevent future flooding issues.

Councillor Lesley Macinnes, transport and environment convener, said: “In situations like these, with the best will in the world, it’s impossible to avoid localised flooding.

Flooding in Princes Street Gardens caused by the heavy rainfall on July 4.
Flooding in Princes Street Gardens caused by the heavy rainfall on July 4.

“Not only is it not possible to predict such sharp downpours, but our drainage system, along with the sewerage system maintained by Scottish Water, is simply not designed to cope with this.

"The fact water subsided after the rain eased demonstrates it wasn’t down to blockages, but rather the fact drains were beyond capacity.

"In many instances gullies were also overcome by surcharging sewers – another sign that this was an effect of unusually intense water levels.”

She added: “We’re not used to this intensity of weather, but, unfortunately, it seems to be becoming more frequent as climate change effects intensify.”

Responding to the floods in West Princes Street Gardens, Conservative councillor Jo Mowat, from the City Centre Ward, said: “It is clear to me that we need to better understand the capacity of the sewerage and drainage system and consider whether there needs to be an increase in capacity and how we can slow water flow to accommodate the sudden heavy rainfall which has occurred more frequently in recent times.

"Whilst the damage to Princes Street Gardens is inconvenient and unpleasant, it is the damage to the homes and businesses which have seen their second inundation in a calendar year which is of most concern. We need to focus resources and attention on addressing flooding as a matter of urgency rather than high level plans.”

Climate change researchers have confirmed extreme weather events, such as heavy downpours and flash floods, will become more common as the climate crisis unfolds.

"We are going to see more of these extreme events so we need to take some action,” said Dr Kate Crowley, co-director of the Edinburgh Climate Change Institute (ECCI) said.

She said maintenance and drainage were essential to preventing future damage, adding: “We need to see if we can adapt our city to manage these kind of events.

"But also making sure new builds take into account these possible changes due to climate change.

“We know that these events are going to happen again in the future, so it’s about preparing as best as you can now.”

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