Calls for Thames Water to stop dumping sewage in river after map reveals scale of issue in London

Raw sewage was dumped into the Thames outside the Fulham Reach Boat Club (Matt Writtle)
Raw sewage was dumped into the Thames outside the Fulham Reach Boat Club (Matt Writtle)

Thames Water is being urged to stop dumping sewage in the river as a live data map reveals the extent of the issue in London.

In the last 48 hours raw sewage has been dumped in at least three residential areas across the Thames - Vauxhall, Blackfriars and North Woolwich.

A stormwater overflow was discharged from a sewer near Vauxhall Bridge on Wednesday afternoon and again at an adjacent sewer on Thursday.

Sewage was dumped into the Thames for 10 minutes near Blackfriars Pier on Wednesday and again at a sewer on Henley Road, in North Woolwich, on Thursday morning.

There are more than 100 dumping sites across the capital, with many neighbourhoods along the Thames in the firing line, including Battersea, Lambeth, Greenwich and Hammersmith.

A map released by Thames Water in January shows where storm overflows are currently discharging, and the date and time of the last recorded discharge.

Storm overflow sites across London are recorded on the map (Thames Water)
Storm overflow sites across London are recorded on the map (Thames Water)

In January sewage was discharged into the Thames outside the Fulham Reach Boat Club, prompting calls from Hammersmith & Fulham council for Thames Water to tackle local flooding problems.

The council said sewage in the Thames is a health risk to members of four local boat clubs and also to local wildlife.

More than 125 species of fish and a large number of animals live in and around the river. These include the endangered eel – the European smelt – known to breed near Hammersmith, as well as some seahorses and seals.

Sewage also promotes bacteria which decreases the amount of oxygen available in the water, negatively impacting the entire food chain, the council explained.

It’s is calling for more sustainable drainage schemes that help lower the risk of flooding by diverting the rainwater to the ground instead of roadside gullies that push it directly into the sewer network.

There are four storm overflow sites in Hammersmith alone.

Councillor Sharon Holder, Hammersmith & Fulham Member for the Public Realm, said on Thursday: “Thames Water has to take action now to avoid sewage routinely being dumped in the river and threatening local people’s homes.

“This means investing in drainage schemes, green roofs and rainwater harvesting. In heavy rainfall, it is not acceptable for Thames to use sewage overflows as the norm, damaging where our residents live.”

During very heavy rainfall in July 2021, Hammersmith & Fulham was one of the hardest-hit boroughs in London affected by flooding.

Thames Water’s local sewer network was overwhelmed, with sewage and rainwater surging back into local homes and businesses via toilets, baths and sinks. More than 1,500 local properties were flooded.

There are four storm overflow sites in Hammersmith (PA)
There are four storm overflow sites in Hammersmith (PA)

Thames Water has been under fire from water utility regulator Ofwat, which said that Thames Water has failed to spend its budget to reduce the local flooding issues that causes its Victorian sewer network to overflow.

Ofwat told the Guardian in December that the lack of investment is “extremely disappointing”.

According to new government rules, grassed areas and permeable surfaces will become mandatory for new developments in England from 2024 to help solve the problem.

Environmental groups claim that river dumps have become more of a necessity than an exception to the rule, as outdated treatment works are unable to cope with average amounts of sewage.

A spokesperson told the Standard that Thames Water is taking action to improve the health of rivers.

“We’ve committed £1.6 billion of investment in our sewage treatment works and sewers over the next two years.

“This will help us deliver our commitment to a 50 per cent reduction in the total annual duration of discharges across London and the Thames Valley by 2030, and within that an 80 per cent reduction in sensitive catchments.

“In London, we have started the £100 million upgrade of Mogden sewage treatment works, which will increase capacity and reduce the number of storm discharges from the site, and we’re also spending £145 million upgrading Beckton sewage works.”

Thames Water also pointed to a £4 billion investment nearing completion, which aims to capture 95 per cent of untreated sewage currently entering the Thames in a typical year.

It said over the next two years, starting next month, the company will invest £1.12 billion on sewage treatment plants, including £650 million on upgrading 135 existing sites.

Over that period, Thames Water plans to spend a further £470 million on the wider sewer network.