Rivers in London’s parks are being polluted with human sewage.
The system designed to stop the problem can’t cope and is failing to protect our rivers.
A Freedom of Information request by London Waterkeeper has revealed that in 6 months there has been a 700% increase in the number of river-polluting drains on the Environment Agency’s waiting list. In November there were 18, there are now 154 drains damaging rivers in and around London.
Part of the Wealdstone Brook in Woodcock Park, Brent
Thames Water has been set a target of dealing with 200 dirty drains by 2020. That list was full right at the start of the five year plan in 2015. This means that countless drains will be harming rivers and putting people’s health at risk for years to come.
We rely on the authorities charged with the protection of our rivers to prevent this. They need to recognise that the system is over-capacity and under-funded.
A problem that should have ended in Victorian times is plaguing London in the 21st Century.
Thousands of homes have connected washing machines, showers and toilets to pipes that lead to a local river. Only rain is meant to go down a drainpipe, wastewater needs to be treated at sewage works. Instead we have turned many rivers into sewers.
The pollution of rivers with sewage is happening on a massive scale. Thames Water says there are more than 63,000 properties that are breaking the law and the proportion is increasing.
We’re putting our health at risk too. London Waterkeeper has taken water samples in public parks and found worrying levels of e-coli bacteria. This shows sewage is in rivers that anyone could come into contact with.
The Moselle River in Lordship Recreation Ground. It’s polluted by sewage from homes in Muswell Hill, Wood Green and Hornsey
The truth is the efforts being made to protect our rivers are inadequate. We need the Environment Agency and water regulator Ofwat to fully recognise the scale of the contamination. Thames Water must be allowed to dedicate more resources to finding homes that have polluting pipes.
What can be done to protect our rivers?
Thames Water’s plan for 2020 – 2025 hasn’t been settled yet. London Waterkeeper will be campaigning for it to fully recognise the scale of sewage pollution from people’s homes and dedicate more resources to it. For this we need the Environment Agency to prioritise the problem.
Giving Thames Water a goal of 200 drains isn’t good enough when it’s a fraction of the real number. We need the Environment Agency to be candid and reflect the true situation. Only then will people start to realise the extent of the problem and check if their home is polluting a local river.
While polluting drains are reported and investigated the investment doesn’t match the size of the problem. The drains don’t remain sewage-free for long enough. New sources of pollution occur faster than old ones can be found and stopped. The national misconnections information campaign has a very low profile, not reaching enough people.
This drain is polluting the Wealdstone Brook again just over a year since it was declared clean
Our rivers are caught in a vicious circle which sees them perpetually contaminated by effluent. There is a lack of effort to stop the problem reoccurring. The Wealdstone Brook was declared clean in March 2015. But 14 months later it is polluted again, stinking and coated with sewage fungus. Sewage levels in Tottenham’s Moselle River have risen again after an increase in the number of properties with misconnections.
London Waterkeeper will continue to highlight the number of rivers in parks that are being poisoned by sewage, exposing the harm it causes and calling for action.