Water treatment – beer drinkers beware!

Responsibility for the regulation of reservoirs in Scotland has now transferred from local authorities to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA). The safety of all existing reservoirs more than 25,000m3 capacity will now be regulated by SEPA following the implementation of the Reservoirs (Scotland) Act 2011.

The aim of the transfer is to provide a more consistent inspection regime across all reservoirs in Scotland. Since the Act was passed, local authority funding has been slashed so they would in any case be struggling to perform this function. Under the Act each reservoir has been assigned a risk designation of high, medium or low, according to the consequences of an uncontrolled release of water. The transfer follows a registration period and consultation last year.

Les Watson, SEPA’s flood risk manager, said: “The shift in regulation from local authority to SEPA has been a huge initiative and the work we start now will help to ensure a more consistent approach to managing reservoir safety across Scotland. These water bodies are a vital national asset, and their ability to operate safely and be maintained to a high standard are of paramount importance to our economy as well as our national wellbeing.”

Water treatment came under fire last week from an unexpected source. The famous American environmental activist Erin Brockovich has slammed Scottish Water’s plan to chloraminate the water supply to customers in the Spey Valley.

The row revolves around enhancements to the £24m Aviemore water treatment works in response to customer feedback concerning chlorine levels. The introduction of chloramination, an alternative disinfection process to chlorination, was planned to improve the taste of drinking water.

However, Brockovich, says: “Scottish Water’s plans to “improve it” – by adding a cocktail of ammonia and chlorine… when in reality it’s just a dirty trick. Adding ammonia to drinking water does not improve it. It masks the underlying problems and contaminants. Additional chemicals creates more reactions that are in fact more toxic. Scottie Water… clean the water properly… don’t just add more chemicals that do nothing more than conceal.”

Scottish Water disputes this. They say “The process to be used in these enhancements, chloramination, is widely practiced across the UK. One in four of our customers currently receive chloraminated water – including those in Inverness, Aberdeen, much Edinburgh and other parts of the Highlands and Islands, who all receive safe and high-quality drinking water. Chloramination is a process which allows us to reduce the level of chlorine – and further improve the taste of the drinking water received by customers through their taps.”

Scottish Water has a point. The debate about chloramine has focused on N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), but they are not the same. NDMA can be a byproduct of chloramination or chlorination, but drinking water is not a major source of exposure to NDMA.

Beer drinkers should be interested in this story though. Chloramine is considered a problem in brewing beer. Like chlorine it can react with and change some of the natural plant flavors that make up the beer, and it may slow or alter the yeast. Because chloramine dissipates much more slowly than chlorine from water, beer-makers prefer carbon filtration to neutralize it in the water. Lots of excellent micro-breweries in the Highlands!

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