Letter to Ruth Cadbury MP - sewage dumping by Thames Water

30 October 2020 


Ruth Cadbury MP 

House of Commons 





Dear Ruth


I am writing in my capacity as one of your constituents to ask you to support Phillip Dunne's Private Members Bill, which seeks to place a duty on water companies to ensure that untreated sewage is not discharged into rivers and other inland waters.


The Bill is due a Second Reading on Friday 13 November.


Thames Water regularly breaches the terms of its licence by dumping untreated sewage into the Thames when it rains. The rules allow that water companies can discharge untreated sewage only in exceptional circumstances, however, analysis of water company behaviour by the Guardian earlier this year found that in 2019, England's water companies discharged raw sewage into our rivers more than 200,000 times for more than 1.5 million hours. 

In the case of Thames Water, in 2019 the company discharged sewage into rivers in the catchment area nearly 1,600 times, over nearly 13,000 hours. And these figures only account for sewage outflows that are monitored. 


Yesterday we learned in the Times that the monitors for the CSO (combined sewage overflow) at just one site, Mogden Sewage Treatment works, were not working for 42 consecutive days last year. Thames water has a statutory duty to ensure its monitors are working, but the company has not faced any censure from the Environment Agency.

In the meantime, water companies, which are largely owned by foreign investment institutions, have paid out £57bn in dividends between 1991 and 2019, about half their expenditure on water and wastewater infrastructure.

From a water quality standpoint, the industry and regulatory model is not fit for purpose.

A Guardian report in September noted that EA figures found "that no river has achieved good chemical status, suggesting pollution from sewage discharge, chemicals and agriculture are having a huge impact on river quality.

There has been no improvement in the state of English rivers since 2016 when the last data was published, despite government promises that by 2027 75% of English rivers would be rated good. The data shows only 16% of waterways – rivers, lakes and streams – are classed as in ecological good health, the same as 2016."


I do believe that the Environment Agency has singularly failed in its mission to protect our rivers, and serious questions should be asked about the capability of senior management, who have wrung their hands and moaned about lack of funding, but do not use their existing powers to fine polluters who brazenly break the rules.


However, that issue is for another day, but it does underline, I believe, the importance of Mr Dunne's Bill, which will at least improve accountability and require water companies to do much more than simply take the cheap way out of their responsibilities by dumping raw sewage in the Thames every time it rains.


Many of those supporting the Bill are river users, from rowers, sailors, bird watchers, walkers and fishers, like me, as well as many members of the public who are fed up with our rivers being mistreated by corporate vested interests.


I fish on a stretch of the River Kennet, a tributary of the Thames, and for many years I have seen the slow destruction of the river from agricultural run-off, water abstraction and sewage pollution, which kills bugs, fish and wildlife and removes the oxygen from the water via eutrophication.


The Kennet is a chalkstream, and England is unique in having over 80% of the world's chalkstreams, most of which are in the South and South East of the UK. These are our natural equivalent of the Amazon rainforest, yet we have allowed the life to be throttled out of them by water companies, who say they are stewards of the environment but act like professional fly tippers.


I very much hope you and your fellow MPs will take this opportunity to reinstate some teeth to environmental law. MPs on all sides of the House have signalled their support for this measure, and I would be most grateful if you could lend your active support to speak up for our riverine environment and help secure the future of these precious natural jewels for the next generation.


Please let me know if you need more information


Best regards

Ben Welsh