Fears have been raised that River Spey users are being kept in the dark about potential sewage leaks just weeks after dozens of fish deaths.
More than 50 fish died in the river, paddleboarders become “violently sick” and dogs became unwell in the span of just a few days earlier this month.
No sign of any pollution has been found by agencies despite numerous tests and water samples being done.
However, concerns persist locally that some kind of spillage has occurred to cause the number of recent fish deaths in the River Spey.
Now a freedom of information request from the Scottish Liberal Democrats has revealed that Scottish Water doesn’t monitor sewage in the river while Sepa carries out just monthly checks.
‘We need to clean up our rivers’
The Lib Dems have raised concerns nationally about the condition of the country’s Victorian era sewer system.
Figures from Sepa show there was a 30% increase in sewage overflows with 14,008 instances logged across Scotland in 2022, up from 10,799 the previous year.
Neil Alexander, leader of the Moray Liberal Democrats, has called for more monitoring of rivers for sewage leaks.
He said: “Our distilleries depend on clean water from the Spey for their industry. At the moment in England almost every sewage overflow is monitored but in Scotland it’s only a small fraction. The new environment secretary needs to record and publish all sewage discharges so we get a true picture.
“How many people will need to get unwell on the River Spey before the Scottish Government act to clean up our rivers?”
Sepa says it currently carries out monthly chemical monitoring on the River Spey at five locations between Laggan and Fochabers and “routine” ecological sampling at 11 other locations.
The agency says officers also monitor seven tributaries and check various discharges to ensure they comply with permits.
Nathan Critchlow-Watton, Sepa’s head of water and planning, said: “Scotland’s water quality is at its highest level ever, with 87% of our water environment rated as good or better. This year, Scotland also has a record-breaking number of bathing waters rated as ‘excellent’.
“We welcome the increased public interest in the environment we all share, and the growing aspirations – heard loud and clear – for our water environment. The River Basin Management plan sets a water quality target for 92% of the water environment to be in good or better condition by 2027.”
The Scottish Government has been contacted for comment.
What caused River Spey fish deaths?
There has been no confirmation of what caused the fish deaths and groups of hikers, canoeists and paddleboarders to become unwell on the River Spey this month.
Sepa says an initial report on September 7 indicated the water quality to be “abnormal”.
However, by the time the agency checked the water itself it found that all readings from the river and banksides were “within expected ranges”.
Officials have stressed that any pollution would likely have caused deaths in other species in the river, which has not been detected.
Other potential causes including low oxygen levels in the water due to low flows and high temperatures are currently being considered.
Meanwhile, the reports of fish deaths on the River Spey have stopped with no sign of any continuing sewage spill.