A LOCAL council has unanimously called for action to improve the water quality of a toxic loch which turned bright green last month.

Perth and Kinross councillors want tighter controls on the amounts of phosphorus deposited into Loch Leven and to stop raw sewage ending up in the major tourist attraction.

Council leader Grant Laing has agreed to write to the Scottish minister for environment and land reform Mairi McAllan to request action.

A motion – tabled by Liberal Democrat councillor Wilie Robertson and Independent councillor Dave Cuthbert – was agreed when councillors met for the last time this year on Wednesday, December 21.

Loch Leven is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), a Ramsar site (wetland of international importance), a National Nature Reserve and a Special Protection Area (SPA).

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However local councillors are growing “very concerned” about the water quality. While planning guidance was introduced to mitigate the impact of phosphorus generated by development in the area Kinross-shire councillors Willie Robertson and Dave Cuthbert pointed to a wider discharge issue.

Their motion stated: “The water in the loch is being enriched by phosphates entering the loch from agricultural run-off and treated effluent from the Milnathort and Kinross Waste Water Treatment Plants.

“This is leading to growing instances of algal blooms, some of which are toxic, making it unsafe for humans and animals alike.

“However, there is a further problem. Because of the shared sewage systems (carrying both sewage and road water) in Milnathort and Kinross, in periods of heavy rain, Scottish Water are forced to divert untreated sewage directly into the loch. This is a further major factor in the degradation of the water quality.”

The National: Algae blooms in Loch LevenAlgae blooms in Loch Leven (Image: Councillor Willie Robertson)

Their motion called on the council’s SNP leader to request the environment secretary ask SEPA to introduce a weight limit on the amount of phosphorus deposited into Loch Leven.

They are also seeking “far tighter controls” to “stop Scottish Water depositing untreated sewage into Loch Leven and that all such overspill events are recorded and reported”.

Tabling the motion Kinross-shire councillor Willie Roberston said: “You don’t need to be an ecological scientist to see that the water conditions in Loch Leven are deteriorating.

“Loch Leven is one of Perth and Kinross’ major tourist attractions with an estimated 250,000 visits per year. It has the highest levels of environmental protection. It is an SSSI, a Ramsar site and a National Nature Reserve. It is home to a major RSPB reserve and visitor centre and is surrounded by the nationally popular Loch Leven Heritage Trail. The loch is managed by NatureScot.

“But now, during almost 12 months of the year the loch is affected by algal blooms – some of which are toxic to humans and animals. This council has to erect signs warning visitors not to go into the water and not to allow their dogs to swim in the water. How have we got here?”

He added: “SEPA claims that the vast majority of phosphorus entering Loch Leven comes from agriculture. This is in spite of the huge amounts of work carried out in the last 20 years to create field buffer margins and the work done to stop the erosion of river banks in the catchment. Despite all this being done the problems with algal blooms in the loch are clearly getting worse.”

Independent councillor Dave Cuthbert said: “Loch Leven had heavy loads of blue/green algae in it from February to November this year to the extent that the water was a bright green colour in November.”

He added: “Currently, there is no monitoring of how much untreated sewage is being discharged from the waterworks in Milnathort and Kinross.

“It is imperative that monitoring of phosphorus discharges from the wastewater treatment plants commences as soon as humanly possible and a limit must be set on how much phosphorus can be discharged from the wastewater treatment plants into Loch Leven.”

Bailie Claire McLaren questioned how much of the phosphorus presence in Loch Leven was due to agricultural practices and said the farming industry “adheres to the many strict rules and legislation surrounding its activity”.

Listing some of the rules and legislation she added: “There are also rules in place for the management of phosphorus which mean that the risk of run-off is minimal.”

The aptly named Conservative Kinross-shire councillor Neil Freshwater called it “irresponsible” of Scottish Water “to not properly monitor the situation” and record and report overspills.

SNP Kinross-shire councillor Richard Watters – who convenes PKC’s Climate Change and Sustainability Committee – said climate change was having a “huge impact” on the temperature of the water in the loch.

He said: “When there was algal bloom in February that was pretty unheard of and created concern with all four ward councillors.”

He also pointed to an issue with “more frequent and intense downpours” combined with “antiquated drainage systems”.

Council leader Grant Laing said: “I’m very happy to write [to the environment secretary] as the motion asks me to do and to report back through briefing notes as usual when I get a response.”

This was unanimously agreed.