‘Failing’ infrastructure is killing fish and ‘devastating’ rivers, anglers say
“Devastating” sewage spills will continue to kill fish and pollute rivers unless Thames Water updates its “failing” infrastructure, anglers have said.
The Angling Trust said there have been two large spills within six months on the River Ray in Wiltshire, just upstream from where it meets the Thames.
They said the river suffered “catastrophic pollution” in the 1970s and in 2003, but has since recovered and become a popular fishery with roach, dace, chub, perch and occasionally barbel.
In August last year, the trust said some 2,000 fish died after a burst in a rising sewer main at the Haydon Brook sewage pumping station near Swindon for which it sought compensation on behalf of two local angling clubs.
Another leak on March 1 from the same rising main flooded an industrial area and spilt into the river, which has likely stalled efforts to restock and restore the river, the trust said.
Not only have they wiped out our section of the River Ray but it has also impacted fish stocks on our River Thames sections lower down
Anglers have now written to Thames Water asking why it has taken a second pollution incident to prompt the company to commit to replacing the 3.2km (1.9 mile) section of the pipeline.
A Thames Water spokesperson said: “Earlier this month, we responded to a burst sewer near our Haydon End sewer pumping station. We had more than 30 tankers working around the clock to pump the sewage away, enabling us to prevent flooding to local properties and limit the impact to the local environment.
“We stopped the pollution flow into the nearby River Ray using tankers and worked closely with the Environment Agency taking water samples and monitor the impact on the river.
“We also took steps to help the river recover, including increasing oxygen levels in the river to protect wildlife.
“Long term, we had plans to replace the pipe by 2025. Given the frequency of the recent bursts, plans are under way to try and replace it sooner.”
Angling Trust CEO Jamie Cook said 10% of the UK’s pipes and sewers were built during the reign of Queen Victoria and a “clear majority” are 60 years old or more.
In a letter to Thames Water boss Sarah Bentley, he said: “I’m pleased to hear that you are now pledging to have a new rising main installed later this year and fully operational by the middle of 2024.
“This, of course, begs a number of questions. Why has it taken so long and a second pollution for you to decide to replace infrastructure that was demonstrably, and catastrophically, so obviously unfit for purpose?
“We then have to ask what reassurance can you offer that there are not other parts of your wastewater infrastructure in a similarly deplorable condition and likely to pollute other waterways?”
The Angling Trust also criticised water regulator Ofwat for failing to improve adequate investment in the UK’s wastewater infrastructure and said sewage pipes were operating with an “absurd” life expectancy of 2,000 years.
An Ofwat spokesperson said: “We take our responsibilities on the environment extremely seriously and we have been clear that too many companies are falling behind on their investment plans.
“We expect companies to deliver the service improvements they were funded to deliver. Failure to invest or delays to investments means that vital improvements are not being made or are late.
“These issues really matter to customers and we will keep pushing companies to meet their obligations to customers and the environment.”
Dan Garner, fisheries officer for South Cerney Angling Club, said: “There are no words to express how devastating this is to us at South Cerney Angling Club.
“This has now been the fourth serious pollution incident and the second sewage spillage since August last year.
“I can see no end to this problem until Thames Water have stepped up and renewed their failing infrastructure in question.
“Not only have they wiped out our section of the River Ray but it has also impacted fish stocks on our River Thames sections lower down.”
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