Langstone Harbour Board                            WQR0027

 

 

Written Evidence Submitted by the Langstone Harbour Board

 

Summary

 

The Langstone Harbour Board (LHB) is a statutory harbour and pilotage authority on the south coast of England.  Langstone Harbour is a highly designated Marine Protected Area and supports a busy recreational water sports community.  LHB has always been extremely concerned about the quality of the water within our jurisdiction, in particular how bacteria, viruses, microplastics, petrochemicals and pharmaceuticals are entering the harbour via combined storm water outfalls (CSO) and these might negatively impact the health of our harbour users and the wellbeing of our fragile marine ecosystem.

 

LHB recognises that this inquiry is focussed upon inland waterways and rivers, however, as an organisation we believe that the scope of the inquiry should be expanded to include inshore coastal areas, particularly enclosed marine systems such as harbours and estuaries.  These coastal marine locations provide the same draw to people as inland waterways. They are heavily used recreational spaces where people can exercise and engage with nature.  They are also the locations where rivers terminate and so should be considered as part of the holistic water system.

 

Between the 1st December 2020 and the 31st January 2021 the local water company, Southern Water, have reported storm water discharges totalling more than 426 hours entering Langstone Harbour from its CSOs.  This is by no means unusual, and although pollutants contained within these discharges are diluted significantly by rain water they nonetheless remain laden with human waste, petrochemicals, microplastics and pharmaceuticals.  Southern Water do not provide details of the volume of storm water that 426 hours of discharge might represent.  Further details of duration of historic storm water discharges into Langstone Harbour as reported by Southern Water can be obtained from LHB upon request.

 

The frequency and length of these discharges, coupled with the knowledge that they contain bacteria including E. coli, is of obvious concern for harbour users who come into contact with the water for either work or pleasure.  LHB is also greatly concerned about the impact of pollutants in storm water on harbour habitats and wildlife.  Langstone Harbour is one of the most highly designated Marine Protected Areas in England, enjoying the following designations:

The Institute of Marine Sciences at The University of Portsmouth is currently undertaking work to determine whether the concentrations of pharmaceuticals and other chemical routinely found in storm water are negatively impacting the endocrinology and reproductive ability of a range of organisms found in harbour waters.  Further information upon this work can be found by contacting lead researcher Dr. Alex Ford at the Institute of Marine Sciences, Ferry Rd, Southsea, Portsmouth PO4 9LY.  LHB believes that the impacts of pharmaceuticals upon ecosystems, both riverine and marine, should be included in this review, and that funding should be made available to researchers to further explore this topic.

 

LHB has a wide range of harbour users and stakeholders, including windsurfers, fishermen, lifeboat volunteers, kayakers, sailors, water skiers and many more.  By the nature of their work and pastimes these stakeholders are in regular contact, often to the point of submerging, with harbour water.  At the time of writing these harbour users have no way of accessing contemporary, reliable and accurate information about storm water discharges or the current state of water quality in Langstone Harbour.  LHB believe that our stakeholders should have access to this information in order to be able to make informed decisions about likely pollution levels and therefore when it is safest to enter harbour water.  LHB recognise that Southern Water are currently developing a system named “Beachbuoy” to address this, but believe that all water users should have free and easy access to this information at all times, nationally.  Water companies are already required to report on storm water discharges to the Environment Agency and should therefore be able to quickly and simply develop mechanisms to share this information, in real time, with the public.  LHB would like to see legislation in place to ensure water companies provide this service to the public.

 

In an attempt to address the UK housing crisis, local authorities across the UK have been set targets by central government to construct large numbers of new homes to allow the millions of British people currently living in unaffordable, insecure and inappropriate dwellings the chance to live in better and safer conditions.  As part of this national strategy, Havant Borough Council and Portsmouth City Council (the two local authorities bordering Langstone Harbour) need to build a combined total of 27,693 houses before 2036.  The majority of these dwellings will be served by Southern Water’s existing waste water treatment works at Budds Farm.  As previously stated, Southern Water are already forced to discharge hundreds of hours worth of storm water in to Langstone Harbour and surrounding water bodies during rainfall events to prevent flooding of homes and businesses.  It seems clear that adding thousands of homes to a waste water system already unable to cope with existing levels will only exacerbate the problem and, without investment into the current waste water system, increase the frequency and length of discharges further.  LHB would like the Government and water companies to explore sources of investment and funding to modernise waste water treatment systems and infrastructure to ensure these systems can cope with increased housing. It is also important to make certain that when it becomes essential to discharge storm water that best efforts have been made to ensure that storm water is as free of pollutants as possible.

 

Langstone harbour contains a number of classified shellfish beds, where shellfish species including clams, oysters and mussels are caught by licenced commercial fishermen and sold to market.  In order to be classified, sample shellfish from each bed are analysed regularly on behalf of the environmental health department of the local authority (in this case Portsmouth City Council). This sampling and analysis determines the level of pollutants – particularly bacteria – present in the shellfish flesh and therefore allows determination of their suitability for human consumption.  All shellfish beds in Langstone Harbour are classed B (although at times have been classed in the lower C category) indicating that at least 90% the shellfish contain no more than 4600 E. coli / 100g.  Although E.coli may be from  a number of sources including bovine, equine and canine, it is likely that a significant quantity of E.coli found in shellfish is human in origin and enters harbour waters via storm water discharges.  Shellfish captured in Class B beds must be processed (via heat treatment or relay into clean water areas) before they are fit for human consumption.  Inevitably this significantly devalues the shellfish and impacts the fishing fleet’s ability to earn an income.  Shellfish beds in Langstone Harbour and the wider region are sometimes closed by the local authority in response to very high levels of storm water discharges by water companies.  In recent days it has been widely reported in the media that the EU have permanently banned all imports of live shellfish into Europe from the UK for processing.  As the UK fleet’s biggest market for shellfish (very little of which is consumed domestically) this will have a devastating effect on fishers ability to earn a living, as well as negatively affecting elements of the economy which support the fishing industry including fish merchants and marine boating services.  If the waters surrounding our shellfish beds were cleaner then shellfish would be of much greater value and easily exportable, bringing economic benefit.

 

Finally, LHB would like to draw the inquiry’s attention to its frustration with the current status quo observed when considering Southern Water’s ability to invest in improving its waste water infrastructure.  As LHB understands the situation, Southern Water are currently operating (at least mainly) within the license conditions provided to them by the Environment Agency that allow them to legally discharge storm water to prevent flooding of homes.  As Southern Water are adhering to license conditions, the regulator OFWAT will not allow them to invest in system improvements as this investment would raise consumer bills.  It is clear that an urgent review of all discharge licenses provided by the EA should take place to ensure that license conditions demand that storm water releases are extraordinary rather than regular events, and that when they do occur that every measure is taken to ensure that pollutants entering the ecosystem are at a minimum.

 

February 2021