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S*** CREEK: Outrage as sewage spills into River Chess for more than 70 days

 Published on: 28th May 2024   |   By: Bryn Holmes   |   Category: Uncategorized

Environmental campaigners have shared their deep distress at a sewage discharge into a local river that lasted for at least 77 days.

According to data made public by Thames Water, the storm overflow at Chesham sewage treatment works (STW) began at 6.45am on February 29, and was still ongoing at the time of writing – a total of 1,849 hours. It has now finally finished.

The waste flooded into the River Chess, a rare chalk stream that flows from Chesham into Chorleywood and Loudwater, and then further into Rickmansworth.

Chairman of the River Chess Association, Paul Jennings, spoke to Chorleywood News about his frustration with the current situation.

He said: “The depressing thing is that we actually got Thames Water to spend a lot of money on upgrading their systems, so we would have hoped to have seen some improvement. Instead, we’re actually looking at what could be one of the worst spills we’ve seen.

“On what basis do they [Thames Water] think their permits allow them to do this during dry periods?

“The Chess should be a beautiful river, it should be crystal clear, but the opportunity right now for people to see a proper chalk stream has been lost.”

Chalk streams are an extremely rare natural feature, with only 210 existing across the world; 160 of these are located in England.

Incidents such as this can cause major problems for the wildlife in these streams, as Paul explained: “The immediate location where the discharge is coming from is now covered with sewage fungus that snuffs nearly all life around it. The one thing that does thrive off it is a variety of midge, and now we’re getting lots of reports from residents of midges in the area.”

The Thames Water website states that the company has spent £20million on the Chesham STW, with treatment capacity upgrades completed in late 2023. Works to improve the quality of content that is discharged will be completed later this year.

However, this hasn’t stopped incidents such as this recent discharge, which took place for two-and-a-half months. This has become a national problem, with sewage spilled into numerous rivers and beaches across the country.

When asked how the problem could be solved, Paul explained: “What needs to be done immediately is further groundwork surveys, which should find where the groundwater which is causing the blocking of the sewage system is coming from, so they can prevent it.

“For far too many years, we’ve treated this country’s rivers as a default backup sewer network. They’re fortunately very good at recovering, but every time something like this happens, a little bit of the quality is lost. The government has to have a desire to regulate this.”

A Thames Water spokesperson said: “While all discharges are unacceptable, the sewage system was historically designed in this way, to relieve pressure and prevent overflow into people’s homes.

“We appreciate how much waterways are loved and enjoyed by everyone, and we are committed to minimising our impact on the environment, but we can’t do it alone. Farming, industry, livestock and extreme weather also play a role in river health.

“We have published plans to upgrade 250 of our sites across the entire region, including our Chesham STW. More investment is needed across the entire sector, as infrastructure ages and demand on it increases. That’s why we’ve asked for increased investment in the next regulatory cycle between 2025-2030.

“We’ve put transparency at the heart of what we do, and we were the first water company to publish a real-time data map on our website, which in its first year has been viewed over 350,000 times.”

A spokesperson for the Environment Agency said: “We take pollution incidents very seriously. We have instructed Thames Water to urgently manage sewage overflowing from manholes in the Misbourne Valley (that would affect the Chess) caused by flooded sewers.

“Our specialist officers continue to investigate the issue for any effect on the environment. Anyone can report suspected pollution or flooding to our 24-hour incident hotline at 0800 807060.”

Photo Credit: Peter O’Connor

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