Plans agreed to tackle Whitehaven Harbour's discoloured water

Boats at Whitehaven Marina
Hundreds of boats have been moored in the orange-coloured water for more than a year

Plans to tackle water in a harbour turning orange have been agreed, 16 months after the problem emerged.

Discoloured water started entering Whitehaven Harbour at the end of 2022 - an issue thought to be linked to historic mining.

Copeland MP Trudy Harrison chaired a meeting of agencies, authorities and regulators in West Cumbria.

A collaborative approach was agreed on Friday, including filtration and "long-term" efforts to address the cause.

Investigations to find the source of the problem started in 2023, with tests carried out at a railway tunnel.

Water in the railway tunnel being tested
Tests were carried out in November in a railway tunnel as part of a hydrogeological survey

Network Rail engineers took samples four months ago to find out if water from old mine workings was entering the Bransty Tunnel between Corkickle and Whitehaven then flowing to the harbour culvert.

Earlier samples were taken by the Environment Agency from Queens Dock in December 2022 and February 2023, and said initial results from the samples showed "increased metals in the water".

'Complex to solve'

Friday's meeting brought together government bodies and local authorities including Whitehaven Town Council, Northern Rail, the Environment Agency, Highways England, Network Rail and the Coal Authority.

Afterwards, Ms Harrison, Conservative, said she feared any action would not be fast enough to ensure a solution by the end of the year, but welcomed the collaborative approach agreed.

Photo taken 10 March 2024 at Whitehaven Harbour
The discoloured water remains an issue in the harbour

Deanne Shallcross, chief executive of Whitehaven Harbour Commissioners, believed the issue was impacting visitor numbers and local businesses.

She said solutions agreed by the multi-agency task force would not solve the "wider problem" of the area's topography.

"The historical mine-working, the railway tunnel and other problems mean this is a complex problem to solve," she added

She said she shared "community frustrations" that no solution had been found to date, adding: "We are not the creator of the contaminated water, just its recipient."

Hank De Groot
Sailor Hank De Groot is among those with significant concerns

Sailor Hank De Groot is among harbour users who have raised concerns.

"The main problem for me is that it makes things very dirty - when the water comes on board or on hands or clothes, it makes a real mess of things," he said.

"It would be an inconvenience to move away from the harbour but if it doesn't get resolved in the near future, I would consider it."

Defra's minister for water, Robbie Moore, is expected to visit Whitehaven later this month.

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