Rivers in London’s parks are being polluted with sewage. The system designed to stop the problem can’t cope and is failing to protect our rivers.

Wastewater should be treated at a sewage works. But instead it is pouring out of hundreds of drains around London. The damage being caused is constant because only 40 drains are cleaned up a year.

There are 200 problem outfalls on the list that the Environment Agency gave to Thames Water in 2015. These are to be tackled by 2020. That list was full right at the start of the five year plan in 2015. 40 outfalls are dealt with a year. That’s 61 so far with another 139 still needing action. With the system at capacity it means there are an additional 112 dirty drains on the waiting list. It’s not clear when these will be dealt with. So there are currently 251 drains that are a pollution problem, most in London. There are countless drains yet to be detected.

Sewage pollution in the Wealdstone Brook in Woodcock Park, Brent

Part of the Wealdstone Brook in Woodcock Park, Brent

The authorities charged protecting our rivers 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 drainpipes. This turns rivers in London into sewers. 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 Haringey suffers from sewage pollution, like many in London

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.

Even though drains are cleaned up they can pollute rivers in London again within months

This drain was polluting the Wealdstone Brook again just over a year after it was declared clean

Our rivers are caught in a vicious circle which sees them perpetually contaminated by effluent. The Wealdstone Brook was declared clean in March 2015. But 14 months later it was polluted again, stinking and coated with sewage fungus.

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.

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