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Sewage pollution-not too big to fix, too big to ignore!

Sewage sites - many dumping untreated sewage.

This image is from the 'Is my river fit to play in' site. You can expand it to find your home river, using the link at the end of the blog.

The country's sewage infrastructure is in a shocking state. Hopelessly inadequate regulation by Ofwat and the Environment Agency has let the water industry utilities exploit their monopoly status and they have made a fortune £57 billion between 1991 and 2019 and added 48 billion debt.

The problems highlighted by WASP are emerging all across the country. Remember when some people wondered if this untreated sewage problem could even be true? It is very much worse than even we thought.

Algae clogging everything

After a winter which brought about 4 months of untreated sewage spills we saw a huge amount of algae and fine sediment; the brown filamentous algae/diatoms covering everything on the once golden river bed and thick clumps of green filamentous algae in the faster water. Eutrophication - steadily killing our rivers; and then there is the unspoken public health risk.

The ranunculus and other plants, in the few locations where they now remain, have been battered by an algal covering which has deprived them of the light they need to photosynthesize and flourish.

Barbel and Grayling will both have had difficulty in spawning and it is likely that even where they have hung on that they will have failed in these conditions.

Barbel over gravel at Witney 1998

The turbidity (murky water) problem has of course remained and due to the restrictions of COVID 19 WASP activity has been limited but we have been keeping relative turbidity measurements and a photographic record with a team of 16 taking WASP Wand readings each week. Now we are also back out with our excellent InSitu meter.

Windrush near Burford in Spring 2020

Our phosphate sampling is restarting and soon we hope to bring back the riverfly training to get more invertebrate samples done by a growing team.

Bacteria testing near sewage works will restart if and when the risk from Covid19 looks manageable.

We have been very busy discovering some nasty truths and extremely useful information so we are sorry that this blog has lagged behind but we think you will be pleased with what we have done with our time. The stories are on their way.

On a positive note, Thames Water, after insisting it had more capacity to take new development now has undertaken to upgrade the capacity of Witney Sewage Works and to address some of the problems at Bourton on the Water but let's see how long that takes and how good the results are before we start waving flags.

Witney Sewage Works

It is a start but there is much more to do.

The support we have from all of our Councils is a big plus to the campaign and as we link with other groups - we are a coalition partner with Surfers Against Sewage and their petition, for example - we will see more happening.😊Sign here if you haven't

We have some excellent contacts in Thames Water and hope they will be be given the funds to their work as well as they can, not to the lowest standard the company can get away with - and as we know, that standard, courtesy of Environment Agency inaction, is very low indeed.

We are not impressed by the massive amount of money being paid to the new and unproven CEO - £12million over three years - yes you read that correctly and bear in mind that they fired the last one for failure and gave him £2.8 million as a leaving present.

With that sort of paycheck, it looks unlikely that the new CEOs priority will be not wrecking our rivers.

WASP is stepping up the pressure on the government and the industry, with a growing team of excellent people all working as volunteers to get our rivers clean again and safe for all.

Your support is invaluable.

Upper Thames above the trouble

If you want to find your own river and sewage sites use the link below. it is not completely accurate yet but it is very good.


1 Comment

Barry Cottrell
Jul 30, 2020

Witney sewage works upgrade July 2020: when Thames Water were fined £20.3million in March 2017 for discharging raw sewage into the River Thames over a two-year period in 2013 and 2014, Richard Aylard, Thames Water's sustainability director, insisted that the firm had "learnt our lesson”. “In the last three years since the last of these incidents we have learnt our lesson. There have been sweeping changes, better systems and more investment. That’s beginning to pay off. Our performance has improved considerably and we are also doing a lot of work which we are proud of. The evidence is there and the evidence will continue to be there in our improved performance, that’s the only reasonable measure.”

This was in 2017…

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