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Love Your Lakes: FAQs
|Love Your Lakes: FAQs|
Where do phosphates come from?
Phosphates can be found in many things, but they are getting into our lakes from washing machine and dishwasher detergents, sewage, septic tank run-off and fertilisers. This project is working to reduce the impacts from detergents as work is already being done to address the problems from the other sources.
What is being done to minimise phosphates coming from farming?
The Catchment Sensitive Farming Programme is helping local farmers reduce their environmental impact. It includes managing appropriately the use of fertilisers, manures and pesticides; promoting good soil structure and rain infiltration to avoid run-off and erosion; protecting watercourses from faecal contamination, sedimentation and pesticides; reducing stocking density; managing stock on farms to avoid compaction and poaching of land; and separating clean and dirty water on farms.
What is being done to reduce impact from phosphates from septic tanks?
The Environment Agency are visiting businesses in the catchment area to offer advise on septic tanks to ensure they are correctly maintained in order to minimise the chance of any water pollution. Love your Lakes offers domestic cases advice on how to look after septic tanks to ensure that they are not leaking phosphates into the ground and nearby water sources. It is up to the individual to maintain their septic tank. If you are found contaminating water supplies because your septic tank is not correctly maintained you may be liable for a fine so it’s for your sake as well as the environment’s that you take good care of your septic tank!
I have a septic tank, how do I maintain it?
Arrange for your septic tank to be de-sludged at least once a year. The crust layer at the top should be left to ensure the bacteria in the tank is left intact and breaks down waste properly. In your home or business you can avoid using certain products so that the bacteria in your septic tank is not disrupted – for example, never use chlorine based bleaches as these kill the bacteria needed to break down solids and therefore your tank will not be working properly. See our fact sheets for more information
What is being done at the local Waste Water Treatment Works (WWTW) to reduce the amount of phosphates getting into the lakes?
I don’t understand. How do my cleaning products actually get into the lakes’ water?
When you flush water and products down the drain or your washing machines and dishwashers are emptied, this water either goes into your own septic tank or package treatment works, or to your local WWTW. This ’grey’ water is treated through bacterial processes until it is pure enough to be released into the earth through reed beds, soak aways (if you have your own septic tank, etc) or into lakes and rivers.
Because the WWTW were built some time ago they were not designed to cope with such high quantities of waste water as the towns have grown around it and tourism has boomed. Therefore high volumes of waste water mean sometimes this water is not fully treated and not all phosphate is removed. Septic tanks are sometimes poorly maintained and when the bacteria are not working properly up to 100% of the phosphates from the waste water is then released. If you look after your own tank well, you can actually remove 100% of phosphates, so it’s important you maintain correctly.
Can you see phosphates in the lakes’ water?
No they are too small to see with the naked eye, but the Environment Agency is constantly monitoring levels of phosphate in our lakes. Of course, what you can see are the blue-green algal blooms which grow when there is too much phosphate in the lakes.
What does blue-green algae look like?
Blue-green algal blooms can adversely affect the appearance, quality and use of water bodies. The water may be discoloured green, blue-green or greenish brown and several species can produce musty, earthy or grassy odours and sometimes cause foaming on the shore-line.
During calm weather, blue-green algal bloom forming species can rise to the water surface to form a scum. This may look like paint or jelly. The colour of scums varies widely depending on the nutrient supply, light intensity and the age of the bloom. Consequently, scums may be blue-green, grey-green, greenish-brown or occasionally reddish-brown.
What should I do if I see blue-green algae?
You should call the Environment Agency on 0800 80 70 60 and report the sighting immediately. Avoid contact by not entering the water when a bloom is visible. Do not drink or swallow the water and cover any cuts if entering the water. You should also ensure that you don’t allow any of your pets to gain access to the affected water.
What do blue-green algae do to people and pets?
Blue-green algae are toxic and if swallowed when in the water so swimming through it is not a good idea! According to the Department of Health, the following illnesses have occurred in some people who have swum through or swallowed algal scum: skin rashes, eye irritation, vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, pains in muscles and joints. There have been no reports of long term effects or deaths in humans, but in some cases the illnesses were severe. The toxins are also poisonous to pets and can cause severe illness and death.
Is it safe to use the lakes at the moment for recreation?
If an algal bloom does occur you will see warning signs along the lakeshore advising you of the problem with recommendations to stay out of the water. Early September 2010, the Great North Swim was cancelled on Windermere due to the blue-green algae because of the health implications. If there is no blue-green algae present the lake is probably safe, but lake users should always cover cuts in open water and never drink the water either.
How has the algae affected wildlife?
The Arctic Charr lives in Windermere and blue-green algae affects them in the following ways.
- Increased algae eventually die and decompose, robbing Arctic charr habitat of oxygen.
- Increased algae eventually die and sediment out on Arctic charr spawning grounds, smothering eggs.
- Increased algae tend to shift competitive balances within the fish community away from species such as Arctic charr and towards species such as roach.
I've heard about invasive species in the lake, is this related?
No. But there is a campaign that is tackling this problem and there are lots of small things you can do to help stop the spread. The Cumbria Freshwater Biosecurity website can help you learn more and find out what you can do.
Will switching my washing machine and laundry products cost me more money?
Like any product there is a range of prices to suit everyone. Some of the phosphate-free products may be more expensive, but some major, everyday brands are competitively priced. You can also find supermarket “own brand” products which don’t contain phosphates and these may well be even cheaper. See our list of phosphate-free products for some you can try.
Will switching my products affect the cleaning performance?
No. Phosphates soften the water at help hold dirt out of the clothes and in the water. But because
Is this problem only happening in Windermere?
No. Other lakes within the Lake District are suffering similarly (such as Bassenthwaite and Derwentwater) and this problem could occur pretty much anywhere near a lake where people are doing their washing close by. On a national level, Loch Forfar in
But how will the lake closing affect my life?
If you live in the local area you may well be employed or know someone close to you who is employed in tourism (around 18,000 jobs in the area are supported by tourism). If the lakes were to close, fewer tourists may visit the area meaning that your job would be at risk. When a similar case happened in
If you are a visitor you would no longer be able to use the lake for recreation. Even if you are not an outdoor enthusiast who enjoys sailing, canoeing or wild swimming; it is likely you enjoy walking beside the lake and maybe even having a paddle on hot summer days. Even these activities would be impacted as the water’s edge would be off limits too.