London Waterkeeper

Defending rivers. Challenging polluters.

How to Report water pollution

It can be difficult to know if a water body has been polluted. If it is at a river, lake or pond you visit regularly you will have a good idea what the typical state is. It’s important to report pollution so it can be recorded by the body that enforces the law, the Environment Agency. It will be possible to work out if it is a one- off problem or recurring. If it’s not reported the damage to the environment increases. We also can’t assume that someone else has reported the problem. The more reports people make the greater the chance something will be done about it.

How can you tell it’s pollution? You might smell sewage or an unpleasant whiff. There might be oil on the surface of the water, or some other substance. There might be dead fish or other wildlife in distress.

If you think there is something wrong, note the time, location and what you see. If you can, take a photo. STAY SAFE AT ALL TIMES. DO NOT TOUCH THE POLLUTION OR ENTER THE WATER. STAY AWAY FROM THE EDGE. LET SOMEONE KNOW WHERE YOU ARE. TAKE REGARD FOR YOUR PERSONAL SECURITY.

1) Call the Environment Agency as soon as you can on 0800 807060 (free). Give all the details you have. Make sure you ask for a reference number. This will allow you to get an update on the incident, and check whether the site was inspected etc. In general the Environment Agency won’t investigate a pollution incident unless they think it is serious. This is problematic as smaller but regular contamination will still cause damage (we want to see this change). If you are calling the EA for an update on your report dial 03708506506.

2) If you think it is sewage also call Thames Water on 0800 316 9800 (free). You will be asked – what you saw; when you saw it; where you saw it (including a postcode, road name or any local landmarks or features); whether sewage is entering a river or any other watercourse. Again, you can call back for an update.

If it has been raining there’s a chance that sewers will have overflowed. Sadly, some sewers are designed to spill to water bodies when it rains. Too much rain gets into the system and it can’t cope.

A blockage can be another cause, whether that’s a build-up of wet wipes, or fats. In some cases a fault in the pipes themselves can be to blame.

If you see pollution coming from a drain in dry weather the reason could be misconnected properties where waste pipes have been plumbed into drains that are meant only to carry rain to a local river.

Below are some photos that show a range of pollution incidents and what happened (where we know).

Olympic Park. May 2020. We’ve been told this was a sewer blockage caused by fat from a local restaurant. This could mean that the sewer pipe overflowed into the local surface water drain that leads to the smaller wetland. The pollution was reported quickly & investigated by Thames Water. The muck was cleaned up. We want to know the exact cause and whether there are enough checks of sewer pipes so that it can be prevented from happening again.

Wealdstone Brook, Brent. Ongoing. This drain is only meant to flow when it rains as it takes rain from roofs and roads. It smells very strongly of sewage (ammonia/nappies). The white substance is sewage fungus. These are feathery fronds of bacteria that feed on the nutrients in pollution. Properties have illegally connected toilets to this drain. It could be several homes, or one larger property (in London we’ve seen a Care Home, a school and block of flats). A lack of investment in prevention by the authorities means this problem on the Wealdstone Brook keeps coming back. We need greater effort made to stop this happening to rivers.

River Ravensbourne, Harrow Lodge Park, Hornchurch. This is another case of misconnections. We put pressure on Thames Water to increase the action they were taking. Investigations found several properties that had illegally connected waste pipes to the surface water drains. In addition a sewer main was overflowing when it rained. Our efforts saw Thames Water discover a lack of maintenance meant 25% of the pipe was blocked by grit. We have to monitor Thames Water to ensure it’s doing enough to prevent the problem recurring.

The poor old Wealdstone Brook again, in Woodcock Park, Brent. Local people had been complaining for many years about the pollution of their river. The photo shows a fatty scum on the surface. Investigations discovered a number of misconnected properties. There is also a problem with raw sewage getting into the surface water system when blockages form.

Pymmes Brook. Pollution from an industrial estate in Edmonton. The source of this pollution was not found. Sadly, the number of investigations of industrial sites by the Enviroment Agency has reduced in recent years. Producers of hazardous waste no longer have to register their sites.

The Moselle, Lordship Recreation Ground, Haringey. Sewage fungus coats the plants in the river. London Waterkeeper put pressure on the Council to reduce the backlog of enforcement cases that had built up. It had the highest number of misconnections in the Thames Region. It was discovered that in addition to homes, the toilets of an entire school were flushing to the Moselle. Thames Water did a great job of tracking down offenders, the Council just needed to act.

The Olympic Park large wetland pond. May 2020. The first of the pollution events in May followed some heavy rain. This looks like a Combined Sewer Overflow. Sanitary waste is present. London Waterkeeper is investigating if a CSO was to blame. If it was then the discharge is legal, but we want Thames Water to notify people when it happens. An upgrade in infrastructure might be needed.

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