Fish Legal has expressed surprise at what it sees to be the Environment Agency’s apparent lack of concern at the severe and potentially toxic algal blooms in Llyn Padarn, home to one of the rarest fish species in Wales, the arctic charr (Salvelinus alpinus). The Agency recently described the algal bloom as a “natural phenomenon”.

The glacial llyn, which is protected as a SSSI, supports one of only three remaining native populations of arctic charr, or torgoch (‘red belly’) in Wales. The species is extremely sensitive to environmental changes and the current proliferation of algae – described by Fish Legal members the Seiont Gwyrfai and Llynfi Anglers Society as the worst in living memory – is thought to be symptomatic of an imbalance in the llyn ecosystem.

Fish Legal, as the then ACA, first became involved in relation to the nutrient enrichment of Llyn Padarn back in 1993, bringing proceedings on behalf of the Seiont Gwyrfai and Llynfi Anglers Society against Welsh Water for the decline of the llyn as a fishery. Evidence was put before the court of an historic rise in phosphorus concentrations in the llyn, causing eutrophication, with the source of the phosphates substantially attributed to the discharges from Llanberis Sewage Treatment Works (STW).

This civil claim, although ultimately unsuccessful in achieving a financial settlement, led to Welsh Water’s decision to introduce phosphate-stripping at the Llanberis STW to reduce the instances of algal blooms. To the relief of the angling club, following the action brought by the ACA, a new consent was issued by the Environment Agency to reduce permitted phosphate discharges into the Afon-y-Bala which flows into the Llyn.

This should have been an end to the matter. However, once again, anglers are reporting a deterioration in the water quality of the lake, noting sludge deposits on the bed of the Afon-y-Bala and observing cloudy discharges from the outfall at the works, all of which are seen as a threat to fish populations.

Following the involvement of Fish Legal in late 2007, the frequency of chemical monitoring by the Environment Agency at the Llanberis STW and its outlet into the Afon-y-Bala was increased in January 2008.

The Agency’s report summarising the findings has just been released and Fish Legal is shocked to learn that only 1 of 3 apparent discharge pipes is currently being monitored to determine whether Welsh Water is discharging within the terms of the consent. The source, frequency and the nature of the discharges from the two additional pipes is, at present, unknown, and brings into question all past effluent data.

Fish Legal is calling for comprehensive and continuous monitoring of the effluent discharging from the Llanberis sewage treatment works, analysis of the nutrient build-up on the lake bed and a thorough investigation into the links between the discharges from the works and the explosion of algal growth to determine whether a review of the current consent terms at the Llanberis works is necessary to prevent a further deterioration in the Llyn Padarn and to protect its Arctic charr.

Mark Lloyd, chief executive of Fish Legal, said. “We and our member clubs are very concerned about the Agency’s attitude to this very serious issue. For the EA to write off toxic algal blooms as a natural phenomenon, particularly when the pollution from the sewage works is being monitored so inadequately, smacks of complacency at best and incompetence at worst. Llyn Padarn is a jewel in the wonderful Welsh landscape and should be treated with kid gloves, not slapdash regulation and monitoring.”

Huw Hughes, secretary of the SGLAS said, ” The lake looks horrendous – it’s a bright and unnatural green. We have known since 1992 about the causes of the algae and yet the EA are doing little to address the problem of the decline of Llyn Padarn and the Seoint river. If nothing is done, this will be the end of the lake and the river as a sustainable fishery and habitat for Arctic charr. It will also have a long term effect on Llanberis as centre for tourism when visitors know the true cause of the problem.“

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