The quality of Thames river water is in the spotlight both upstream and on the Tideway.

A River Users Group has been in talks with the Environment Agency about sewage overflows near Marlow – while downstream a formal submission for the Thames Tunnel has been submitted.

And questions over water quality have prompted the EA to warn: “The Thames is not a designated bathing water”.

Concern over discharge of sewage into the non-tidal river at Little Marlow was on the agenda at a meeting of River Users Group 6. Chairman Bob King said; “There is a popular spot for families to paddle nearby and there are a number of local swimmers who regularly swim through the area. In addition there are a large number of novice rowers now using the stretch and there are a high number of novice dinghy sailors – many of whom are children.”

In a statement the EA
said a fault had developed at the Little Marlow treatment works resulting in overflow into a nearby field but said no extra sewage had entered the River Thames as a result of this fault.

But the EA did admit: “Some of the sewerage treatment works’ overflows [near the Thames] operate after only a small amount of rainfall allowing untreated sewage mixed with rain water, to flow into the river.

“Both treated and untreated sewage effluent can and does flow into the Thames. Treated sewage is not disinfected – it is just treated to remove solids and faecal matter.”

On swimming the EA statement said: “There are risks associated with swimming in any open watercourse. Rivers are not sterile areas and there will always be some micro-organisms present.

The Thames is not a designated bathing water, so it is not subject to the same water quality standards as designated bathing waters, which have to meet high quality standards to protect bathers' health.

“If people want to swim in the Thames, or other rivers, we would urge them to speak to the Health Protection Agency (HPA) for advice and guidance on swimming in rivers.”

Meanwhile downstream Thames Water has officially submitted an application for Development Consent for the £4.2 billion Thames Tideway Tunnel.

A 50,000-page document was delivered to the Planning Inspectorate which now has to decide if the application is valid before beginning the examination process. If it accepts the application, it will appoint an examining authority of up to five inspectors. Interested parties will be able to make representations.

Thames Water says 39 million tonnes of untreated sewage overflows into the River Thames each year from London’s Victorian sewerage system. If consent is granted, preparatory construction work on the project is scheduled to start in 2015, with main tunnelling due to begin in 2016. The target completion date is 2023.

Story dated March 5th 2013

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