London’s River treated like a Loo

A stomach-churning 55 million tonnes of raw sewage was released into the tidal River Thames in London last year. The “disgusting” amount discharged from the capital's outdated Victorian sewerage system is the equivalent volume of 80 billion toilets flushing directly into the iconic river. The sewers overflowed into the river on 60 occasions, more than once a week on average, and has reinforced the pressing need for the Thames Tideway Tunnel.

If the 25 kilometre ‘super sewer' had been in operation last year, Thames Water claim nearly all of the pollution would have been avoided. Phil Stride, head of the Thames Tideway Tunnel, said: “A massive 97 per cent of the sewage discharged would have been captured and transferred for processing at Beckton sewage treatment works. The vast amount of environmental damage caused by the pollution would have been avoided – we can’t keep using the Thames as an open sewer.”

The total rainfall for 2013 in London was 830mm and the majority of this was washed from the roads and rooftops into the largely Victorian sewer network, pushing the total volume discharged way above the annual average 39 million tonnes. This, however, does not even take into account the record amount of rain which fell in January and February this year.

The proposed Thames Tideway Tunnel will be 25 kilometres long, up to 65 metres deep and, together with the under-construction Lee Tunnel, have a capacity of 1.6m cubic metres.

Miel Sabre, 15, from Islington, has helped to make a film highlighting the need for the Thames Tideway Tunnel. The Parliament Hill school pupil, said: “I had no idea that poos go straight into the river in London when it rains. It’s disgusting. You don’t want to think about what happens when you flush the loo, but we need to start talking about the problem. The Thames is being treated like a toilet and we’re the ones that have to live here. Come on, this is London. We need to sort it out.”

London’s sewerage system still relies on the interceptor sewers built in the 1860s by Sir Joseph Bazalgette, which although in impeccable condition, have simply run out of capacity and cannot cope with the ever-increasing population. Just a light drizzle of rain can cause the system to overflow from combined sewer overflow points located along the river in central London.

The Thames Tideway Tunnel is part of Thames Water’s wider programme of improvements to clean up the River Thames. This includes the £635m Lee Tunnel in east London, which will be completed next year, and the £675m upgrade works to five of London’s sewage treatment works. The Thames Tideway Tunnel on its own will be capturing around half of the discharges.

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