Plans to swap out water from River Thames with treated sewage meet resistance

Image above: Visualisation of abstraction plant at Teddington; photograph Thames Water

Thames Water looking for solutions to demand for more water during droughts

Members of the Strand on the Green and Grove Park residents groups are asking why there is no consultation being held on the Chiswick and Brentford stretch of the River Thames over plans by Thames Water to siphon off water from the river to a reservoir and replace it with treated sewage.

Thames Water needs to increase domestic water supplies to cope with a rising population and the risk of future droughts but the company admits draining up to 75 million litres of water a day from the Thames upstream of Teddington Weir and replacing it with treated effluent poses a threat to river life.

As Chiswick is downstream of Teddington Weir, the quality of the water on our stretch of the river will be affected.

The company has made a number of proposals and set up public consultation meetings at various points along the Thames, from Cirencester, to Oxford, Abingdon and Reading. There have been meetings in Paddington and Richmond, but nothing organised in Brentford or Chiswick by either Thames Water or Hounslow Council.

Image above: Plan of the proposals provided by Thames Water

Change.org petition against the proposal to replace river water with treated sewage

Fiona Jones from Teddington started a petition on change.org to galvanise opinion among Teddington residents. Richmond Council, in whose jurisdiction the extraction would take place, has publicised the consultation.

“Our concerns” says Fiona, are that the scheme, which would drain off water from the river when water reserves are low and transfer it via an existing underground tunnel to the Lee Valley reservoirs in north London, would “impact on river life, fish, insects and plants, because it may impact the biodiversity of the river including changes in the water temperature, oxygen levels and its chemical make-up”.

The scheme will also need the building of what “many may consider to be an eyesore” she says,  at the point where the water would be abstracted from the Thames.

“Thames Water claim this proposal will be safe as they are regulated.  We are worried that although fines may be imposed for breach, this is not enough to protect our river.”

Thames Water themselves admit the schemes carry a cost to the environment and river life.

Company documents say the proposals have the ‘potential to cause … minor to moderate water temperature change’ along the river between Teddington Weir and Walton. There would also be a change in salinity – salt levels – along the river through to Battersea.’

Image above: Plan of the proposals provided by Thames Water

Public consultation and meetings

They say getting the treated sewer water from Mogden Water Treatment Works in Isleworth to the Thames near the weir will involve building a new 15km pipeline, which represents the fastest and cheapest option to increase the amount of water needed to meet future demands.

Critics of the scheme say they would rather the company concentrates on fixing leaks. At the moment they lose almost 24% the water they supply through leakage.

Fiona Jones writes:

‘Thames Water has repeatedly put profits and shareholders ahead of customers and environment; they were fined £51 Million last October for “missed targets” according to Ofwat.

‘Thames Water were given just 2 out of 5 stars by Environment Agency in 2021 for record sewage discharge and pollution to the Thames.’

She urges people to sign her petition, currently standing at 8,745 signatures, to give your views to the public consultation www.thames-wrmp.co.uk and to write to your MP about it.

There is an online Q&A about the scheme, organised by Thames Water, from 7-8.30pm on Monday 27 February and an in-person consultation on Friday 3 March in Twickenham from 4-8pm. Register for either of those events here: Thames Water – Hearing your views.

Since we mentioned it to them on Monday, Hounslow Council has said it would publicise the consultation on its website.

Image above:  People out enjoying the river at Kew Bridge; photograph Anna Kunst

UK more likely to see droughts as climate change accelerates 

Drought is part of many countries’ natural weather cycles, including the UK. But dry conditions are also expected to become more frequent and intense as Earth moves beyond the 1.2°C of climate change we have seen to date.

Following the driest summer in nearly 30 years in 2022, experts are warning that another hot dry spell could see drought conditions return in 2023, despite winter rainfall replenishing most water levels.

Thames Water’s spokesperson said:

“It’s critical that we secure our water supplies for the future, which is why we have launched our draft water resources management plan 24 which sets out the actions and investment needed for the next 50 years. We’re proposing to invest in several new strategic schemes that will provide water to the South East, including the new river abstraction at Teddington supported by water recycling.

“We’re still in the very early stages of consultation and design. If the scheme is taken forward, there will be detailed option appraisal and design work, where we will carry out engagement and consultation with the local community.”

Image above: a burst water main on Bath Road in January 2023

Campaigners say to focus on leakages 

Some campaigners against the abstraction proposals say Thames Water should focus their efforts on fixing leakages instead.

In August 2022, Thames Water revealed they were losing more than 600 million litres of water a day due to leaks in water infrastructure, almost a quarter of all the water it supplies.

On leakages, Thames Water’s spokesperson added:

“Reducing leakage is a priority for us. Right now, around 24pc of the water we supply is lost through leaks from our own network and customer pipes. We know it’s not acceptable to be losing so much precious water and we’ve got a plan to fix it. We’ve met our target for the last three years, reducing leaks by more than 10pc (from 2017/18 levels), and we’re aiming for a 50pc reduction by 2050.

“We are repairing over 1000 leaks per week – whether they are visible or hidden below ground across 20,000 miles of pipes across our network – that’s one leak every 10 minutes. We’re also working with our customers to reduce leakage from their water pipes  (which make up a third of our total leakage).

“Whilst fixing leaks is one of the foundations of the plan, even with an ambitious target of reducing leaks by 50pc, we still need more storage in the future to account for growing population demand and climate change.”

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