Unfortunately, whenever there is heavy rain, water companies are legally allowed to release raw sewage into local rivers. This is done to free up capacity in many out-of-date sewerage systems to cope with storm conditions. It represents a very significant problem – sewage pollution can often kill water wildlife, and can make stretches of waterway extremely unpleasant and hazardous.
With obsolete systems and a steady increase in population, water companies are trying to find solutions. Thames Water is building a colossal sewerage tunnel – the Thames Tideway – which will transform its ability to handle waste and water, and in Watford projects are under way to improve treatments and storage. The companies also work with volunteers to monitor sources of pollution and trials for these ‘outfall safaris’ have taken place across London. Training is currently being organised for volunteers, with plans to implement more of the project next Spring, which will also benefit the Colne Valley Park.
Although there are some solutions on the horizon, they have not arrived quickly enough for the health of local rivers to be maintained. We feel much more needs to be done. There is also worrying news that the Environment Agency has endorsed a proposal that could actually weaken the Water Framework Directive, which grades the cleanliness of all water in our river basins.