Saturday, 08 May 2021

Thames ‘champion’ wants warnings of sewage spills

Thames ‘champion’ wants warnings of sewage spills

A CALL has been made for greater transparency about the amount of sewage being released into waterways.

Jo Robb, South Oxfordshire District Council’s “Thames Champion”, urged Thames Water to make the information available to the public in real time.

It comes after the company was fined £2.3million for a “preventable” sewage spill into the Fawley Court ditch and stream that flows into the river in April 2016.

The raw sewage contained high ammonia levels and resulted in the death of 1,200 fish.

Councillor Robb, who represents Woodcote and Rotherfield for the Green Party, says that the release of information on an ad-hoc basis is unacceptable and that the public should have access at all times and in a way that is easy to understand.

The company has agreed to provide data on sewage discharge at six sites in and around Oxford but she said this was not enough. Councillor Robb, a keen open-water swimmer, said: “I’ve been asking them for 12 months for a commitment to release data from elsewhere.

“Thames Water has monitors installed on pretty much all of its sewage outfalls and that information is not being made public.

“If you want to obtain information from other monitors, you have to email them and they hopefully come back to you within 28 days to tell you if raw or partially treated sewage has been released.

“If you want to swim, you should know in real time. They should be taking steps to make that information public.

“They talk a lot about the measures they’re taking and after the latest fine they said any amount of sewage overflow was unacceptable, so surely step one is full transparency and accountability.”

Controlled sewage overflows are allowed with permission from the Environment Agency in exceptional circumstances, such as heavy and prolonged rainfall.

But Cllr Robb said: “There are minor or intermittent spills and we have no sense of when these are happening. You simply don’t know if you are swimming in raw sewage.

“There is absolutely no reason that I can see why they’re not providing us with a clear plan for right along the Thames.”

Since 2017, Thames Water has received fines worth £24.4 million as a result of nine cases of water pollution across the Thames Valley.

A company spokesman said that while it did have monitors in place, the systems they were linked to did not allow it to provide automatic alerts to the public.

He said: “We have a programme of work underway to upgrade them to allow this to happen but the end result is still a couple of years away.

“We’re regularly taking samples of the river water from the Thames in Oxfordshire and analysing them at our laboratories to help track water quality.

“In the months ahead this will grow to include the use of volunteer citizen scientists to take the samples and we’ll be sharing more details about this soon.

“Our view is that discharges of untreated sewage are simply unacceptable, even when they are legally permitted, and will work with the Government, Ofwat and the Environment Agency to accelerate work to stop them being necessary.

“Our aim will always be to try to do the right thing for our rivers and the communities who love and value them.

“We’re fully aware of our responsibilities as one of the custodians of these incredible environments and are committed to working tirelessly to protect and enhance them.”

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