MP accuses Thames Water of putting 'profits before people' after village is flooded with raw sewage

  • WATCH ITV News Meridian's Kara Digby speaking to residents in Lambourn.

The MP for Newbury has accused Thames Water of putting "profits before people" after the village of Lambourn in Berkshire was flooded with raw sewage.

The water company says ground water levels are their highest in 30 years, affecting the sewage network.

But residents say they're "digusted" that parts of the River Lambourn turned grey due to pollution levels. They say the smell is awful and they're worried about the health risk.

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MP Laura Farris wrote to the Environment Agency calling on them to fine Thames Water over what she describes as 'a serious breach of environmental and public health obligations.'

She raised concerns about raw sewage flowing through the main roads and into the River Lambourn for ten weeks.

Writing to the Environment Agency Ms Farris said: "It is in the water and poisoning it, week after week.

"Quite why nobody has taken the practical step to catch the effluent in some kind of device, after it leaves the manhole but before it reaches the water is beyond me.

"The casual attitude to such a precious waterway is deplorable.

"You will see from the photos I am attaching that plants and wildlife are dying. I understand that Thames Water have promised to attend the village 3 times per week to cleanup but this isn’t happening consistently. Irrespective of this, it is disgusting and a publichealth hazard.

"Please treat this letter as a formal request for the Environment Agency to exercise its power to impose a fine for this serious breach of their environmental and public health obligations."

  • It's thought the problems will continue until at least April when the weather improves.

Responding, the Environment Agency's Thames Area Director, Anna Burns apologised for the ongoing issues.

She said: "Any enforcement action we take must be proportionate to the environmental damage in line with our Enforcement and Sanctions Policy.

"Our current assessment is that the environmental damage continues to be low.

"I recognise the significant and ongoing public health concerns related to the sewer flooding and these are a matter for the local authority (West Berkshire Council) to pursue directly with Thames Water.

"Going forward, we will continue to assess the environmental impact of the sewer flooding and we are engaging with Thames Water on their review of this winter’s events and the updating of their plans to take additional action."

  • River campaigners say this isn't just affecting people.

A Thames Water spokesperson said: "We’re sorry that customers have been affected as our sewers have become overloaded by floodwaters in the River Lambourn area.

"The excessively heavy rain that the region has experienced means the groundwater and river levels remain very high in this area and the ground is saturated.

"A significant amount of this water is entering the local sewer system and causing flooding from manholes.

"We are working hard to keep our sewers flowing and to prevent further flooding.

"We’re carrying out daily clean-ups where the manholes have been overflowing in Lambourn and we’re using tankers at our sewage pumping station in Upper Lambourn 24 hours a day to help manage excess flows in the sewers.

"We also have a filter unit in place near Lambourn fire station, which uses a pump to take the excess water out of our foul sewer, so it can be screened and then safely returned to the river.

"We regularly monitor the water quality in the River Lambourn and the results have has shown a minimal impact on the environment because the flows are heavily diluted by the groundwater and surface water runoff.

"We regularly keep the Environment Agency updated on these results.

  • Water samples show the levels of phosphates are 110 times the amount they should be along with high levels of bacteria.

"We’re continuing to work closely with the Lambourn Valley Flood Forum and we continue to investigate where groundwater and surface water is getting into the sewer system.

"We’ve previously installed 10.1km of leak-tight liners in our sewers, and have sealed 122 manholes in the local sewer network."

When it comes to storm overflows at treatment sites, a spokesperson added: "Taking action to improve the health of our rivers is a key focus for us and we are leading the way with our transparent approach to data.

"We remain the only company to provide live alerts for all untreated discharges and this ‘near real-time’ data is available to customers as a map on our website and is also available through an open data platform for third parties, such as swimming and environmental groups to use.  

"Storm overflows are designed to operate automatically when the sewer network is about to be overwhelmed which then releases diluted wastewater into rivers, rather than letting it back up into people’s homes.

"We regard any untreated discharges as unacceptable, and we’re committed to stopping them from being necessary, with the assistance of our regulators.

"We have published plans to upgrade over 250 of our sewage treatment works and sewers to treat the high volumes of incoming sewage and reduce the need for overflows during wet weather.

"We’re currently carrying out a £10million upgrade to our East Shefford site which we expect to complete in 2025."

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