Channel 4: Moran on sewage in rivers

Yesterday evening, Layla Moran appeared on the Political Slot on Channel 4 to discuss the problem of water companies flushing sewage into Britain’s rivers. She said:

Britain’s countryside is something to be proud of. It’s part of our national identity and its beautiful rivers, lakes and streams are no different. But that’s under threat. In part because the water companies are dumping raw sewage into them. And shockingly that’s legal.

The government has repeatedly blocked bids to hold these water companies to account including a Lib Dem proposal to name and shame the water companies if they are found to have poisoned animals like otters or our family pets with these sewage dumps. The whole thing stinks.

During the programme, Moran spoke to Ashley Smith from Windrush Against Sewerage Pollution and Lib Dem member Jo Sanderson who swims in Wolvercote Mill Stream in Oxford.

The full programme.

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  • Chris Bertram 29th Jun '22 - 9:22am

    Pedantry alert – editors, it’s sewage, not sewerage. Sewage is the stuff transported by the sewerage system, and it’s the former that is ending up in our rivers. Better sewerage arrangements would avoid this happening.

  • Andy Boddington 29th Jun '22 - 9:54am

    Well spotted. Corrected

  • “Name and Shame” isn’t enough, Ms Moran. It should be banned, made a criminal offence and carry severe financial penalties. If farmers were responsible for it, they would be subject to severe penalties.

    It makes one nostalgic for the old Water Boards pre-privatisation.I wouldn’t rule out re-nationalisation.

  • Chris Bertram 29th Jun ’22 – 9:22am:
    Pedantry alert – editors, it’s sewage, not sewerage.

    Indeed, but such an error is dwarfed by the pejorative use of the word “dumping” to imply that it’s a deliberate act on the part of water companies rather than due to an inherent feature of our Victorian sewerage systems…

    ‘1. Was your house or property built after the 1920s?’:

    In Britain sewerage systems have developed since Victorian times when towns and cities grew with industrialisation. The first drains or sewers were built simply to get foul drainage and wastewater away from where people lived because it was realised diseases like cholera and typhoid were spread by poor sanitation. Most of the older parts of towns and cities therefore have combined sewerage systems which take both rainfall and wastewater to the sewage treatment works.

    ‘Combined Sewer Overflows Explained’:

    Overflows of diluted sewage during heavy rainfall are not a sign that the system is faulty. Combined sewer overflows (CSOs) are a necessary part of the existing sewerage system, preventing sewage from flooding homes and businesses.

    Better sewerage arrangements would avoid this happening.

    That would likely cost hundreds of billions of pounds and take many decades to accomplish. More realistic to focus investment on the most polluting parts of the system, which is what’s being done.

  • Joseph Gerald Bourke 29th Jun '22 - 1:43pm

    This is not a simple problem to solve. I have been to a few meetings at our local sewerage works to express residents concern over odour releases and untreated sewage spilling into the Thames and tributaries. This report from 2020 notes the efforts of Munira Wilson MP for Twickenham and Richmond councillors in this regard Blight caused by Mogden sewage works revealed in damning report from MPs

  • David Raw 29th Jun ’22 – 10:49am:
    It should be banned, made a criminal offence and carry severe financial penalties.

    An outright ban is unrealistic anytime soon, but the regulatory noose is tightening…

    ‘Largest overhaul of sewer system to tackle storm sewage discharges’ [March 2022]:

    The consultation on the Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan outlines a step change in how water companies tackle the number of discharges of untreated sewage, which the Government and the public have made clear are completely unacceptable.

    It makes one nostalgic for the old Water Boards pre-privatisation.

    Little or nothing was done to address the problem when in public ownership hence it was inherited on privatisation. Much investment has occurred since, not least because the government can apply regulatory pressure without having to fund improvements. An example is Thames Water’s London Tideway scheme…

    ‘Tideway: The Story’:

    Did you know, even a light drizzle of rain causes untreated sewage to spill into the River Thames from London’s Victorian sewer network?

    ‘Everything You Need To Know About The £4.2 Billion ‘Super Sewer’ That Will Revolutionize What Happens After London Goes To The Toilet’ [November 2014]:

    The project is controversial. Most are concerned about the exorbitant cost, which will be funded largely by the private sector.

  • Brad Barrows 29th Jun '22 - 5:37pm

    As I understand it, climate change means we get more periods of really heavy rain that could overwhelm sewerage systems in urban areas, leading to sewage backing up in peoples’ homes. Discharge into rivers is seen as the lesser of two bad options in this situation. The only solution to avoid both options would appear to be huge additional investment in infrastructure.

  • Nonconformistradical 29th Jun '22 - 9:35pm

    @Brad Barrows
    “we get more periods of really heavy rain that could overwhelm sewerage systems in urban areas, leading to sewage backing up in peoples’ homes. Discharge into rivers is seen as the lesser of two bad options in this situation.”

    The stuff still might get into peoples’ houses if the nearby river with its load of discharged untreated sewage overflows in the aftermath of heavy rainfall.

    Rivers often flow through major urban areas e.g. the Thames. Upstream from London there are plenty of urban places where sewage has to be treated – so discharge into rivers (including tributaries of the Thames) might end up in London…..

  • Layla does well here. And it’s such a fantastic campaign issue: real community politics, with a national angle – and we can make it our own. It was good to see the photo opp at Tiv&Hon with Ed and Richard testing the water in a local river – all wellies, test tubes and disgusted expressions. Something that should be replicated in Focus leaflets all over the country. An aquatic version of the pot hole!

  • David Franks 30th Jun '22 - 9:31am

    All water companies should be banned from paying dividends to shareholders until they have fixed their leaks and stopped pumping sewage into our waterways.

  • Brad Barrows 29th Jun ’22 – 5:37pm:
    As I understand it, climate change means we get more periods of really heavy rain…

    Let’s take a look at the evidence…

    Oxford is fairly representative of England and provides the UK’s longest time series of daily rainfall measurements…

    ‘Radcliffe Meteorological Station’:

    Meteorological records commenced here in 1772; an unbroken daily air temperature record exists from November 1813, daily rainfall from January 1827 and sunshine from February 1880. These are the longest single-site weather records in the United Kingdom, and amongst the longest in the world.

    Here are the daily rainfall totals plotted for the past 195 years…


    There is no upward trend or apparent increase in the frequency of unusually heavy rainfall. Below the charts, in the section headed “Compute extreme indices” one can select “Very heavy precipitation days (RR>=20mm)” or “Precip. fraction on extremely wet days (>99%)” to display a chart showing just those days. Again there is no upward trend.

  • Joseph Bourke 30th Jun '22 - 2:15pm

    These issues require close coordination and continual monitoring by both the Environment agency and local authorities. Isleworth residents (backed by Vince Cable who was business secretary at the time) successfully brought a class action suit against Thames Water in respect to odour nuisance emanating from Mogden Sewer Works Victory For Residents Against Thames Water
    This is the kind of concerted action it takes to get results.

  • Brad Barrows 1st Jul '22 - 8:31pm

    Thanks for your post. Interesting.

  • Ruth Bright 2nd Jul '22 - 12:28pm

    A brilliant appearance by Layla on Newscast this week. She covered so many subjects in such an engaging way – not sewage though!

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