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 them. We asked people to send a formal response to Thames Water’s draft Business Plan for 2020-25, calling for more action. More than 400 did just that. Sadly the Business Plan that Thames Water has sent to the water regulator, Ofwat, only proposes a 2.5x increase in efforts, when a 5x boost is needed.

Currently the target for Thames Water is to tackle 200 problem outfalls, set by the Environment Agency in 2015. These are to be dealt with by 2020. That list was full right at the start of the five year plan in 2015. With the system underfunded it means there are now an additional 193 dirty drains on the waiting list. Sometimes there have been as many as 332, turning our rivers into stinking drains. There are countless more 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. 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. It should just be rainwater that goes down drainpipes. In addition blockages caused by wet wipes and cooking oil cause sewer pipes to overflow into drains that lead to rivers. Then there are failures in sewerage infrastructure that cause river pollution.

All of this puts our health at risk. 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 suffered sewage pollution from homes in Muswell Hill, Wood Green and Hornsey for years. Now Haringey Council is meeting its statutory duty there’s been a significant drop.

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 instructed to dedicate more resources to finding homes that have polluting pipes. The authorities must fulfil their statutory duties.

What can be done to protect our rivers?

Thames Water’s plan for 2020 – 2025 proposes a two and a half times increase in resources to tackle misconnections (page 65, point 5). That’s not enough. Last year the Zoological Society of London published a report based on first-hand research. Thames Water and the Environment Agency supported the project. Volunteers walked along rivers to locate polluting outfalls and determine the extent of the problem. Based on that research ZSL says there are more than 1,000 outfalls that are damaging rivers now. Trebling the number of drains that are cleaned up to 500 over 5 years isn’t enough. ZSL says there should be a fivefold increase in the number of outfalls that are rectified.

More than 400 people told Thames Water, the Environment Agency and Ofwat that we want to see the problem tackled in a meaningful way with a FIVEFOLD increase.

If this doesn’t happen we won’t see the healthy rivers we want. Currently too many 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.

 

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