Defending rivers. Challenging polluters.

Thames Water refuses to tell the public when its sewers pollute rivers

We asked Thames Water more than two years ago to meet its legal duty and tell the public when its sewers pollute rivers. Sewer overflows see human sewage enter the environment. It can contain a host of pathogens. We started the legal process this year with a formal complaint.
Thames Water has replied. They admit they have installed much more monitoring equipment but refuse to put the information in public. This is something that Seattle and Copenhagen have been doing for years. The law states that water companies must publish data they possess, in real-time and online. Thames Water says that because they currently don’t have a platform, they won’t. Conversely Thames Water also admits they issue real-time alerts for two sites in London, Mogden Sewage Works and Hammersmith Pumping Station.
Water companies don’t get to choose how much they tell us. They need to be held accountable so that the public can judge if they have reduced their impact on the environment. While they keep the information hidden from scrutiny the law is being ignored.
London Waterkeeper will now start the next stage of the legal process and prepare to refer Thames Water to the Information Commissioner’s Office for adjudication.
We will also prepare the next stage of the campaign to compel Thames Water to inform people when its sewers spill in specific areas. Sign up as a River Guardian to be on standby.

Thames Water’s response to our complaint –
“As you may be aware, we have started to install monitoring equipment at several of our wastewater sites to help us make informed decisions about how we carry out our activities most effectively and to help reduce the impact to the environment. Many of these monitors undergo testing and calibration; the data also needs to be checked and validated to ensure it is accurately reported to the Regulators at the end of the year.
For this reason, and because we need to design a reliable, secure platform to display this data, we are not currently able to routinely publish real-time data on our website. However, we are hoping to carry out a trial in 2020-21 which involves displaying real-time data from one of our sites, Bourton-on-the-Water Sewage Treatment Works.
We have also made progress by sharing environmental data more widely with the public on matters that directly affect them. This includes sending email alerts for storm discharges from our Mogden Sewage Treatment Works (STW) and Hammersmith Sewage Pumping Station (SPS). These have proved very beneficial to the rowing and other communities on the tidal river.
Please be assured that we are always looking at ways to publish our data progressively and pro-actively. However, if you would like environmental data about a particular matter or about one of our sites, please let us know and we will look to obtain this for you.”

Neighbourhood networks have always been important and this crisis has seen many more created. The world will only benefit from this grassroots organisation. When we emerge from the pandemic we must make sure it continues. We will need this greater social and environmental resilience to meet current and future challenges.
Local activism also shifts the balance of power and means more voices are heard. We can hold the authorities to account so more is done to protect our health and that of the environment.

The science journal Nature has recently reminded us how collective action reduces damage to the planet and save lives. In 1987 the Montreal Protocol was signed to phase out the use of ozone-layer damaging chemicals. Since then the hole has shrunk, preventing millions of deaths from skin cancer. We need more action like this, from local to global.
It’s certainly the wrong time to do the opposite. In America the enforcement of environmental protections has been suspended. It’s worrying to hear the car industry has lobbied the EU to delay compliance with vehicle emission rules. Environmental laws keep us safe and the planet healthy. We must uphold these hard-won protections.

 

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