These were the questions WASP was able to register at the Thames Water Annual Stakeholders Meeting in London on 12 November. They promised written answers and here they are for you. Excise my typos - I had to write them on my mobile whilst listening to the CEO's presentation.
Windrush Against Sewage Pollution
WASP Question. What is the timescale for introducing measure to guard against the cultivation of AMR (anti-microbial resistance) in sewage treatment?
The industry (and wider society) are rightly concerned about the spread of AMR and the role the industry plays as an access route to waterways. The problem is not yet fully understood and more research is needed. As a result there is no set timeline to modify sewage treatment to address the threat of AMR. Thames is currently working with academics, and will be working more widely with the rest of the industry, regulators and Government, to understand if our discharges make a contribution to the spread of AMR in society and if so, what proportionate interventions could be taken and at what cost.
WASP VIEW - Multi resistant bacteria will not wait until it is convenient or cost effective for the water industry to wake up to this serious threat. It may be impossible to reverse the impact of new bacteria resistant to antibiotics. Look up 'AMR in sewage' and you will see that the scientific community is definitely not in the same state of inertia.
Did you spot the ' at what cost ' comment applied to reducing the spread of AMR in society? Are we feeling like we have a price applied to our health and lives? Maybe we should be told what it is? ..............£???
WASP Question. What does the industry plan to do to prevent untreated sewage being released in all but the most extreme conditions or is it still planning to use CSOs to deal with under capacity?
The use of CSOs will continue for the foreseeable future as, although undesirable, these are a design feature of sewerage networks to prevent customer flooding or overloading of treatment works under conditions of heavy rainfall. Companies work to establish which CSOs are causing, or may cause, an adverse environmental impact and these are then prioritised for improvement. These improvements will be location-specific and reflect how the network was designed to operate – for instance, it may involve removal of unauthorised connections, so restoring available capacity. There is no general expectation that CSOs will only operate under ‘the most extreme conditions’, as to do so would be unaffordable to customers. Where need is identified we will look to increase storm tank capacity to limit storm discharge from sites.
WASP VIEW. This blase' attitude to dumping untreated sewage as being somehow normal business is outdated and unacceptable. Calling it ''unaffordable to the customer'' and blaming the people who thought they were paying for safe disposal of sewage overlooks the massive profits that have been made by not addressing these basic infrastructure issues over the past 30 years. We did not have to be in this position in 2018.
WASP Question. How can you aim for 18% pollution reduction when you don’t know how much you pollute? What happened to Steve’s zero pollution aim?
Answered on the day in the Environment breakout session.
The answer was based around the still long overdue introduction of event duration monitors for untreated sewage. WASP pointed out that this of course does not account for the pollution caused by the sewage pumping stations such as the one for which Thames Water is currently being prosecuted at Oxford Crown Court. We also observed that it is a very unambitious target 18%. Where did that figure come from?
WASP VIEW. Our enquiries reveal that there are many other sources of pollution in the sewage network and the idea that TW knows of or records all of them is fanciful. If they are talking about an 18% reduction in known and recorded pollutions then we are talking about something very much different than the reality. The environment cannot tell the difference between the two by the way!
WASP Question. If Thames Water is allowed to trade phosphate reduction by encouraging agricultural reduction is that just putting off the job of Thames Water addressing its own pollution load?
We seek to find the most cost effective and environmentally sustainable solutions to environmental problems. Where environmental targets can be met by reducing phosphorus pollution from agriculture more cost-effectively than reducing the load discharged from STWs this will always be a better value solution for society.
WASP View. This is an interesting one - phosphate trading?. 'Cost effective' seems to crop up when the industry does not want to spend money. We are discovering a number of examples of farm land being polluted by untreated sewage loaded with phosphates, so pursuing those same farmers to reduce their own phosphate footprint seems more than a little hypocritical. 'Better value solution for society' or for the industry?
This does not mean that we do not recognise that there are other avoidable sources of pollution including agriculture. However, surely it is the Environment Agency and Defra's job to reduce agricultural pollution, and water industry money and effort should be spent on reducing water industry pollution.
OK we might not get invited again...
However, we would not be doing our campaign justice if we did not challenge these answers. We know that Thames Water is heavily populated with people who want to do the very best for the environment and customer and we want to make sure they have the support, technology and the funds to do that. Right now that is not happening.