Save Windermere lake from sewage and an environmental catastrophe

Save Windermere lake from sewage and an environmental catastrophe

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Matt Staniek started this petition to Thérèse Coffey (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and

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Sewage is being released into Windermere lake for thousands of hours. Windermere is dying and I don't think any sewage should be discharged into our National Parks. Climate change is putting massive amounts of pressure on the lake, so much so that just a few weeks ago Cunsey Beck, one of the rivers that feed into Windermere, was the latest victim of these sewage discharges. HUNDREDS of fish were killed. Salmon, white-clawed crayfish, trout, eels, perch, roach, and rudd are all dead. This is a sign of what's to come for Windermere in the near future. There is no plan in place to save Windermere for the future. Please sign and share the petition as far and as wide as you can.

Why you should care about England's largest lake - Windermere

Windermere is on the cusp of ecological and biological destruction, this is due to the nutrient phosphorus being dumped into the catchment in unsustainable quantities. The most notable phosphorus input, one that we are all familiar with, is sewage. Phosphorus acts as fertiliser for algae, which in turn is destroying our fragile freshwater environment. Lots of phosphorus means lots of algae. Lots of algae mean dramatic changes and no oxygen in the water for fish. Fish have been and continue to die in Windermere for the past decade. Arctic charr, Atlantic salmon, sea trout, and brown trout are all in decline as a result of the rapid reduction in water quality. But this is just the tip of the iceberg, the worst is yet to come.

Why you should care

We are in the very early stages of our climate changing with droughts and flooding becoming an annual and increasing issue: this is a fact. Windermere lake is not in a state where it can cope with this threat. If 3 scenarios coincide, thousands of dead fish will be washed up on the shores of lake Windermere with many other animals- birds, mammals and invertebrates.

  • If we see a summer with particularly high visitor numbers (adding pressure to inadequate antiquated infrastructure); 
  • If we see summer to be the driest on record
  • If we see United Utilities responding to this drought, when Thirlmere reservoir runs out of water, by beginning to abstract drinking water from Windermere.

This will create an algal bloom so big that oxygen levels in the lake will plummet resulting in the death of thousands upon thousands of fish.

The statements above could happen this summer. We are talking about scenarios that are in our near future. Scenarios that we are not prepared for because Windermere lake has already become eutrophic. We now see blue-green algal blooms in Windermere even in the depths of winter. Blue-green algae can kill your dog and will hospitalise you if you swallow it when swimming.  This is not speculation. A gentleman has come forward after he contracted Campylobacter after swimming in Windermere and accidentally swallowing its water. Windermere's water quality is declining with the impact on human health only becoming worse. If nothing is done this inspiring water will not be able to be swum in, wildlife will not be able to live in it and 3% of the Uk's economy will disappear when the tourist industry in the National Park dries up. The health of our freshwater impacts every single one of us in the country. We all drink water, we all need water to live, so we all must speak up for our lakes and rivers.

The cause of the death of Windermere

The two biggest inputs of phosphorus into Windermere come from United Utilities wastewater treatment assets (hereafter wwtw) and from approximately 1900 private septic tanks. Currently, both of these inputs are not monitored and are largely unregulated. Storm overflow discharges (sewage) into the catchment for thousands of hours and it is not sampled nor are the volumes measured. After £25 million was invested in the Ambleside wwtw, completed in 2020, we were meant to see a reduction of total phosphorus discharge from 892 kg/year to 627 kg/year. However, in 2021 90% of storm overflow discharge was not recorded, with the data that was collected, showing no reduction in the frequency and use of the storm overflow system, meaning this site is still discharging for over 1000 hours every single year even after investment. This questions whether United Utilities are following their environmental permit and an gives a clear indication as to why wwtw are responsible for a minimum of 40% of phosphorus input into Windermere

The number of septic tanks within the catchment has grown in the last 20 years. Some old homes that used to hold one toilet have now been split into holiday lets that have several toilets, all of which are going through the same-size septic tank. Some septic tanks are extremely outdated and do not retain the sewage that runs through them. Many more issues from septic tanks are largely unknown because there is no monitoring or regulating them. It is the Environment Agencies remit to sort this issue but the government is not providing it with the necessary funding and resources to do so. Ultimately this issue is worsening as new developments continue to be built within the catchment.

Evidence of Windermere's decline

In 1980 855 sea trout were caught on the River Leven (the main river flowing out of Windermere) in 2021 only 12 were caught. This is an example of one species which is dying due to inadequate water quality. This is not surprising when you look at how pollution and climate factors impact fish species. Zooplankton, the staple food for a whole variety of fish species, die when the water is too warm for them in the summer months. The Freshwater Biological Association has shown that the lake's annual average surface temperature has risen by 1.7°C in 70 years. This is just one invertebrate species which is a pivotal part of Windermere's freshwater ecosystem and is just one of several species declining.  Data that the Environment Agency collected in Windermere’s North Basin in 2018 showed a phosphorus spike at around 0.075 mg/l. Following this, the lake dropped down a whole water quality class in terms of the Water Framework Directive. Data collected by South Cumbria Rivers Trust showed, post-lockdown, spikes in phosphorus closer to 10 mg/l recorded on several occasions throughout 2020 and 2021. So in two years we have seen an increase in phosphorus which is 1000 times worse than anything previously recorded in the lake. There is also growing evidence of farmland in the Windermere catchment being impacted by pollution events following rivers breaching their banks. I have now spoken with several individual farmers whose land cannot be grazed after flooding events as livestock refuse to eat the affected areas. The evidence and data is unavoidable. This issue is getting worse.

The Solution

We need immediate action to save Windermere. I have spoken with the Environment Agency, the Lake District National Park Authority, United Utilities and Natural England about this. There is no plan in place, nor immediate action planned to help save Windermere. We must now turn to the government directly to demand immediate action to save this iconic lake.

  1. We need greater protection for Windermere. Windermere needs to be designated as a SSSI (Site of special scientific interest) for the protection of the European river otter, Arctic charr and Atlantic salmon. Following this we need Windermere designated as an SAC (Special Area of Conservation) for the protection of the European river otter. This provides a legal mandate that A) nutrient levels must be reduced to protect the designated species and B) it would require every new development in the catchment to be ‘nutrient neutral’, essentially capping the septic tank issue at its current level. It is vital that these two designation processes started by the end of this summer. I now have evidence to justify the greater designation required to help protect Windermere based on the Uk's first national otter survey
  2. We need the Environment Agency to have annual funding (given by the government) to be able to inspect, regulate and monitor every single septic tank in the catchment, fixing each with flow monitors to understand how much effluent is coming from these tanks and of what quality and quantity. This would include a registration of the septic tank and regulation of annual emptying of the tanks. Natural England needs to be properly funded by the Government to be able to do what is necessary to ensure SSSI and SAC designations are met, achieved and provide sustainable improvements to the nutrient input into Windermere. The government needs to give both Agencies adequate funding to complete the work that is absolutely paramount, to save Windermere for the next generation.
  3. We need United Utilities to invest in every single one of their assets in the catchment to ensure each one has the capacity to cope and store storm overflow discharge in periods of high rainfall and for this to be treated to the highest standard. We must have the outflow from each site monitored with all data recorded and openly accessible. All sites in the catchment need the total phosphorus input to be reduced with the ambition of zero storm overflow discharging in the coming years. We need this to start this year in United Utilities' next AMP (Asset Management Plan) process in which they must commit to upgrading the capacity of one or two of their assets in the coming AMP process and one asset investment in subsequent AMP processes until the situation is resolved. Additionally to this, by the end of this summer, we need United Utilities to be sampling and measuring volumes of storm overflow discharges as well as the treated effluent from every wwtw with this data being openly shared to the general public in an annual release of information to every homeowner in the catchment. 

Windermere Lake should hold the best and most pristine freshwater that can possibly be achieved in this country. This can be achieved with enough investment but action is urgently needed now. This is a lake in a World heritage site, an area of outstanding natural beauty and a National Park: we must demand more for Windermere. What has been previously done was not enough, we need investment and action and we need it now. 

Call to action

To reiterate there is no plan in place and there is no solution to this crisis presented by the representative local authorities. I am now turning directly to the government to instate what has been described above to save Windermere. This is the only way we will be able to stop Windermere from dying. Soon you will not be able to swim in Windermere. Soon no fish will be able to live in Windermere. Soon we will face the consequences of inaction to save this country's most iconic lake.

Please share this petition to as many people as you can and if you can have a couple of pounds to help support my campaign, please visit the link below.


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