Thames Water boss says she’d swim in river with treated sewage

London Assembly questions water firm boss over plan to discharge sewage into area of the river heavily used for leisure, reports Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter

The Thames in south-west London and (inset) Cathryn Ross at the London Assembly last week (credit LDRS/Noah Vickers)
The Thames in south-west London and (inset) Cathryn Ross at the London Assembly last week (credit LDRS/Noah Vickers)

The CEO of Thames Water has said that she would happily “take a dip” in a river which has had “fully treated” sewage water poured into it.

Cathryn Ross, the water company’s interim joint chief executive, was challenged to do so by Hina Bokhari, a Liberal Democrat on the London Assembly.

The question came up last Wednesday (13th) as the assembly’s environment committee was discussing a Thames Water proposal to build a new river abstraction station close to Teddington Weir.

The company says the project would be “the best value scheme to increase our drought resilience in London”. It would transfer water from the Thames via an existing tunnel to the Lea Valley reservoirs in north-east London, while replacing the water removed at Teddington with “highly treated recycled water” from Mogden Sewage Treatment Works in Isleworth.

But the scheme has come up against opposition locally. Teddington’s Lib Dem MP, Munira Wilson, warned in a Thursday letter to the minister for environmental quality, Rebecca Pow, that there are “serious questions” over its “environmental and construction impacts”.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Bokhari told Ross: “This is a part of the Thames which is incredibly popular for leisure usage. When I was there, it was jam-packed with swimmers and canoeists and boaters.”

She also pointed out that the company has not yet completed an environmental impact assessment for the project.

Ross said Thames Water “absolutely recognises” the “strength of feeling in the local area”, and that the scheme remained at a relatively early stage, meaning that it won’t be delivered until 2029/30.

She said that the company would complete an environmental impact assessment at a later stage in the planning process.

Asked by Bokhari whether she would meet the campaigners opposed to the scheme, Ross said that “of course” she would.

“Good, I’m glad you will, and I’m sure they’ll be keen to see whether you will take a dip as well,” Bokhari said.

The CEO could be heard replying “it depends on the weather”, before Bokhari continued: “Would you take a dip in effluent though? Would you do it in treated sewage water?”

Ross responded: “Yes. I would take a dip in a river where we had discharged fully treated effluent.”

Thames Water has said that it will “continue to do more detailed engineering, scheme design and environmental studies to develop the scheme prior to submitting a formal planning application”.

Earlier in the meeting, Ross apologised for the water outage on Wednesday, which affected thousands of homes across west and south-west London. She pledged that the company would conduct a review into the problem’s root cause, and their response to it.

The CEO also told the committee that there were several opportunities Thames Water was looking to pursue when it comes to green energy production, including the possibility of extracting heat from warm sewage.

She said that she was unable to comment on an investigation by the Office for Environmental Protection, which is looking into whether the government and water regulators may have broken the law over how they regulate sewage releases.

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