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Thames Water pay nearly £5 million for sewage clean up in Oxfordshire this year

Thames Water, the UK’s largest waste and wastewater company, has revealed that they have spent £4.7 million in Oxfordshire to clean up sewage overflows in the past financial year. In response to an Environmental Information Regulations request submitted by the Liberal Democrats, the organisation also revealed that across its network, the total cost of clean up came up to £30 million. 

The Cassington and Witney sewage treatment works located upstream of Port Meadow have been the site of clean-up efforts by the company. Expenditure is focused on the use of tankers which clean spills caused by burst pipes, broken pumps, and overwhelmed sewage systems. A spokesperson from Thames Water 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.”

Concerns about wastewater treatment and discharge have led to persistent criticisms of Thames Water’s management approach. Studies by the Oxford Rivers Improvement Campaign in 2022, found that 46 of the 90 sewage treatment works across the Upper Thames lacked the appropriate capacity, with over 85 billion litres of discharge being pumped into the river since 2020. Residents have suffered from these infrastructural issues, with those living in Lower Radley experiencing blocked drains for the past three years which overflow with sewage during heavy rains.

Layla Moran, parliamentary candidate for Oxford West and Abingdon commented: “This staggering figure shows just how misguided Thames Water’s investment strategy is… they are leaving sewage to overflow and then spending millions of pounds to clean up their own mess.”

Overflow and sewage discharge has also had significant impacts on recreation areas and facilities used by students. In January 2022, 350 protesters gathered in Port Meadow to call for an end to Thames Water’s dumping of sewage in local rivers and waterways. The #EndSewagePollution campaigns launched by these organisers led to an application by the City Council to give Oxford designated bathing water status.

The application was approved in April 2022 on the condition that its water quality is considered “fit to swim in” within five years. At this time, levels of E. coli in the waters were found by Professor Peter Hammond, former Professor of Computational Biology at UCL, to be at twice the healthy limit, primarily due to sewage discharge and overflow. In both 2022 and 2023, the area has been classified as having “poor” water quality in government reports

Thames Waters’ have pledged to increase investment in order to improve their facilities. From 2020 to 2025, they committed £1.25 billion to maintaining and improving operational sites, including the rivers across the Thames Valley in Oxfordshire, promising £15 million in upgrades to the Witney facility and aiming for a 50% reduction of Thames Valley discharges by 2030. 

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