Sewage in Thames a “disgusting embarrassment” to London
Roz Savage tells MP Zac Goldsmith’s Thames Tunnel Now event
The 44-year-old told a House of Commons reception, hosted by environmentalist and conservative MP Zac Goldsmith, that London’s antiquated sewer network is a “disgusting embarrassment” that urgently needs tackling.
Zac said: “The existing sewer system is remarkable, given that it is 160 years old. But it needs an overhaul. We put enough raw sewage into the river to fill the Albert Hall 450 times, and that has to stop.” He added; “In addition to the environmental imperative, this project will create thousands of local jobs, and high quality apprenticeships, and contribute to getting us back on track economically.”
Roz echoed his comments and on the predicted impact of the Thames Tunnel’s construction on people living near to the river, she added: “I quite understand their concerns but sometimes you have to put up with short-term pain for long-term gain.”
The Westminster event followed a close-up inspection of one of the overflow vents. Roz rowed under Putney Bridge to see for herself the human effluent, sanitary items and other detritus that run from the combined sewer overflow (CSO) beneath the busy Thames crossing, just yards away from riverside restaurants and prestigious rowing clubs.
Putney Bridge CSO discharges 34 times a year on average, accounting for 68,200 of the 39m tonnes of sewage that annually enters the river from the 36* most-polluting CSOs built into London’s overstretched Victorian sewer network.
Roz, the first woman to row across the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans, braved London’s filthy waters in her role as ambassador for Thames Tunnel Now (TTN) – a coalition of 18 environmental groups who support the proposed Thames Tunnel, which will stop sewage entering the river.
After her trip to see the Putney sewer overflow, Roz addressed a TTN reception at the House of Commons attended by nearly 200 supporters of the project. Roz said: “It’s a disgusting embarrassment that we are dumping hundreds of thousands of tonnes of sewage into the river every week. It is also a serious health hazard and I hate to think what visitors to the Olympics will think. I’ve rowed through some pretty grim stuff on my travels but the Thames is heart-breakingly returning to the open sewer it used to be 200 years ago. The Thames Tunnel cannot come soon enough.”
As little as 2mm of rain is enough to overload the capital’s sewerage system and cause untreated effluent to spill into the river. Disease-ridden sewage discharges, which often kill fish and other wildlife, take place more than once a week on average.
The 14-mile ‘supersewer’ will take the sewage that currently enters the river away for treatment. The width of three London buses, it will run from Acton in the west to Abbey Mills in the east, according to proposals.
Debbie Leach, chief executive of environmental charity Thames21, lead agency of the TTN coalition, said: “The River Thames is the greatest open space running across London, but we are failing completely to protect it. The Thames is being ruined for the people of London as well as for the amazing wildlife that depends on it. We need to change things. The Thames Tunnel project is vital. It needs to be delivered now.”
Phil Burston, of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), a TTN member, said: “The Thames Tunnel is a once in a generation opportunity to leave a sewage-free Thames as our legacy for this century and beyond. The Thames Tunnel Now coalition believes it is the only viable and cost effective way to deliver that legacy.”
Phil Stride, Thames Water’s head of London Tideway Tunnels, said: “We are in listening mode right now, midway through the second phase of our public consultation for the Thames Tunnel. We are eager to hear people’s views and concerns about how best to deliver this must-do project to clean up London’s river.”
A planning application (Development Consent Order**) for the tunnel, forecast by Defra to cost £4.1bn, is set to be submitted in 2013. Provided approval is granted, engineers expect to break ground in 2016, and complete the scheme in 2023.
The Thames Tunnel is the third phase of the London Tideway Improvements programme. Phase one – £675m of upgrades to London’s five main sewage works – is already under way, as is phase two – the £635m Lee Tunnel, a four-mile sewage tunnel to tackle the Abbey Mills CSO in Stratford, taking sewage that currently spills to the River Lee for treatment at Beckton sewage works in Newham