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Waterways day

Friday 18 November saw a new version of the event formerly known as Water Day started by West Oxfordshire District Council in 2018 when WASP started to reveal the sewage scandal that many of you now know so well.


This year, alongside hosting presentations, WODC opened up a marquee for stalls and as well as tackling sewage pollution and flooding, included groups working on wider environmental projects.


WASP's Victoria Marsh and Soraya Wooller at the WASP stall

Among the groups, were the Cotswolds Rivers Trust, working with WASP on the Windrush Recovery Project, and our friends from the Evenlode Catchment Partnership.


Bizarrely and unforgivably, the Environment Agency refused to send anyone, making an unbelievable claim that an organisation with a budget around £1.7 billion, could not spare anyone. Previous Water Days saw around 5 Agency staff present but they experienced a challenging engagement with an audience no longer prepared to take unfounded excuses. Not turning up has been the current EA strategy for many media interviews as well - rather than send a representative who can be questioned, they simply send statements to be read, often making demonstrably untrue claims about being a robust regulator and other such nonsense.


On the same theme, having been present for the past two Water Days it was surprising and disappointing that West Oxfordshire's MP, Robert Courts was also missing and therefore unavailable for engagement and conversation, in particular in respect of what WASP and many, if not all, water pollution NGOs regard as the government's dreadfully inadequate response to the sewage scandal.


We note that Robert is one of the signatories to an attempt by the Conservative Environment Network to improve the over hyped 'Landmark' Environment Act which we regard as a polluter's charter and we look forward to him talking to us about that but so far, we have not heard from him.


Thames Water was there, as always, represented by Sustainability Director, Richard Aylard and a team of four. Despite the criticism we level at the company, we certainly do not direct it at the professional staff who attend such events to engage in forthright and difficult discussions. The same goes for the operational people trying to make the best out of under-funded sewage works and networks. In fact, directing billpayers' money to the staff, the delivery of the service and protection of the environment rather than the shareholders was one of the key themes of our presentation.


Another was that claims that Thames Water shareholders have not taken a dividend in 4 years do not match the returns sent to Ofwat and obtained by WASP.


Data extract from Ofwat spreadsheet obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

WASP believes these dividends to have been extracted in contravention of the Ofwat licenses and may even be reclaimable - especially as so much money is made by not investing, which results in criminal pollution and the proceeds of the pollution may be interpreted as the proceeds of crime which can be recovered under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. That legislation has already been used successfully against criminally performing waste companies but not the water industry - why?


Extract from a water company license concerning dividends.

We also had a look at who the shareholders are and mentioned that it appears they have never invested their own money into improving the assets and infrastructure, merely bought a resaleable stake in the company or companies and 'invested' bill payers' money that they didn't take as dividends. You will hear more about this soon.


Thames Water multi-layered structure and shareholders. Unregulated companies shroud the regulated body.

Peter Hammond completed the WASP talk with a look at Operator Self Monitoring (OSM) where water companies choose when to test various aspects of treated sewage discharged from their works (mark their own homework).


The chart below shows the times of day in 2021 when Thames Water sampled levels of Ammoniacal Nitrogen at Carterton Sewage Works as required by its permit. The 12 samples required over the year were always taken between 7 am and 2 pm and all were well under the permitted level of 4 mg/l. Data from Thames Water’s own continuous monitoring of Ammonia showed that outside the 7am-2pm time range, levels could be well above the limit. By sampling in the narrow band in the middle of the day, Thames Water missed the chance to sample where the higher reading could be found. There is more to come on this as you would imagine.


Chart showing the short time range for sampling Carterton's ammonium NH4 for compliance with its permit and where the high readings existed

On a more positive note, Peter identified Thames Water as being one of the companies that will cooperate in providing data as required under the law while some holding the highest 4 star status - United Utilities and Severn Trent Water, are refusing disclosure. We wait to see how this investigation shapes up over the coming weeks.


It was an excellent event, very well attended and we understand a lot of people could not get a seat in the hall or didn't want to join a crowded room. Discussion was curtailed by time constraints so we are thinking of running a WASP event entirely about pollution and abstraction with a more relaxed timescale for the presenters and audience - also with a live feed video link for those who can't get there.


The marquee and stalls were a new feature.

As usual from WASP, there will be fresh material so if you were there at Waterways Day, there will be more to see and hear.


If you would be interested in that, please send a brief reply.

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