Chiswick’s MPs voted against dumping untreated sewage in rivers

Both of Chiswick’s MPs voted to place a legal duty on water companies not to pump waste into rivers. Despite this, the bill was defeated by 265 MPs’ votes to 202 after the majority of Conservatives voted against it.

The proposal to place legal restrictions on water companies came from the House of Lords, in the form of an amendment to the Environment Bill.

Rupa Huq MP and Ruth Cadbury MP both voted for the amendment, highlighting the need to protect the UK’s environment from pollution.

The vote came after reports from the Environment Agency that water firms discharged raw sewage into English waters 400,000 times in 2020, a 27% increase on the previous year. This includes regular discharges from Mogden Sewage Works in Isleworth into the Thames, when the incoming storm water and sewage exceeds the capacity of the storm tanks, built to hold back excess water until it can be processed.  

Images above: untreated sewage in the Thames at Strand on the Green

Sewage dump map goes viral as backlash grows around the country

Many Conservative MPs have been caught on the back foot by the angry response to the vote, with several posting identical statements online handed to them from Downing Street. They argue that the amendment did not include an impact assessment, and the costs incurred to private companies by immediately banning sewage spills would be too great for them to handle.

The statement reads:

“To eliminate storm overflows means transforming the entire Victorian sewage system to a whole new sewage system. It would be irresponsible for any government to spend an estimated preliminary cost of anywhere between £150bn to £650bn to transform the entire sewage system. This is a huge amount to spend in an ordinary time, let alone at a time of a continuing health pandemic.

“To give some perspective, £150bn is more than the entire schools, policing and defence budget put together and £650bn is billions more than we have spent on supporting livelihoods and jobs throughout the health pandemic.”

Images above: Clusters of brown circles show areas were sewage regularly enters bodies of water in the UK. A map of south west London shows various sewage overflow & treatment sites (far left is Mogden Sewage works, Kew Transfer Works storm overflow is left of centre & Stamford Brook is the leftmost circle in the top right cluster)

In the furore, an interactive map showing where untreated sewage is dumped in the UK has gone viral on social media, with several major news outlet using it in their reporting. The map was generated by The Rivers Trust, conservation experts dedicated to ‘wild, healthy, natural rivers, valued by all’.

The map was generated to help members of the public find out where sewage is discharged into rivers, enabling them to make informed decisions about where to swim, paddle, and play.

In 2020, the sewer storm overflow at Stamford Brook overflow spilled six times for a total of four hours, with the Kew Transfer Works storm overflow spilling 20 times for a total of 105 hours.

The River Trust advise members of the public to avoid entering the water immediately downstream of these discharges and avoid the overflows (brown circles) generally, especially after it has been raining.

“We need to put our environment first” says Ruth Cadbury MP

Speaking after the vote on Wednesday 20 October, Ruth Cadbury said:

“Our rivers should be the crowning jewel of our environment. They offer a home and habitat for animals, a location for outdoors activity and a site of great natural beauty.  

“That’s why I voted to force water companies to stop dumping dirty sewage directly into our rivers and the sea. We know first-hand in West London about this as Thames Water discharge dilute sewage into the great River Thames every time we have more than a drizzle. Thames Water doubled the treatment capacity of Mogden Sewage works within the last ten years, but failed to address the lack of capacity of the storm tanks, something I have been challenging for years.  

“I know from the large number of emails and messages I’ve received that people locally want to see our rivers and beaches cleaned up and made safe.  We need to put our environment first.”

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

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