Protest held at Southern Water treatment works on River Test over 'ongoing pollution'

ITV News Meridian's Rachel Hepworth reports.

Hundreds of people gathered at a Southern Water treatment works on the River Test today due to concerns about the level of pollution in the river.

Environmental campaigners and anglers say the world-famous chalkstream is under threat because of the amount of untreated waste being dumped there.

Southern Water says record rainfall means its nearby treatment site is under high demand, and its Fullerton site is working flat-out to treat waste water.

The River Test is one of the world’s most iconic chalk streams and physically, it is the longest, being 39 miles from source to estuary.

Protestors gathered this morning. Credit: ITV Meridian

Less than 18% of the river now remains in a 'favourable condition' and campaigners say the pollution and abstraction by Southern Water is not helping the situation.

The river supports Atlantic salmon, trout, otters, water voles, grayling, brook lamprey and bullhead, all of which are dependent on its health.

Despite Southern Water’s claims that there were no sewage spills from 2020-2022, the Angling Trust says sewage in the river has been witnessed and recorded over many years.

It says the visible quality of the water is poor with large, suspended solids and macerated toilet paper present.

Investigations by the Trust and local groups into the water show heavy sewage fungus is smothering the riverbed and plants. Whilst recent water quality tests have shown elevated levels of ammonia and phosphates.

Martin Salter of the Angling Trust said: “Southern Water claims no sewage leaks are going on, but the good work of the riverkeepers has shown this to be untrue. This scandal has been going on for years, and the lack of investment in the sewage network means it is getting worse. Southern Water must urgently step up its operations and stop the flow of untreated sewage immediately.”

“This demo is one of a series of public protests we are expecting from anglers around the country as we lead up to the General Election. Anglers are making their voices on pollution heard, and water companies and politicians would do well to listen.”

Pete Farrow, Chairman of the Hampshire River Keepers Association said: “For over a month now, on almost a daily basis, the river keepers have been taking it upon themselves to report the ongoing sewage being discharged into the River Test to the Environment Agency.

“We feel so frustrated and let down by the powers that be that nothing has been done to stop this sewage from entering our beloved River Test, and we now feel that we have to take matters into our own hands.

“This river is the life and soul of the Test Valley, and thousands of people and the surrounding wildlife rely on the river being in good health. We are not just fighting for this generation, but we are fighting for the next generations that will follow in our footsteps so they can enjoy this beautiful chalkstream.”

The River Test is a site of scientific importance. Credit: ITV Meridian

Dr Nick Mills, Director of Environment & Innovation at Southern Water, said: “Record rainfall has raised the risk of groundwater flooding in many areas. Following 700 mm of rain measured at the site since December, the site is coping with high demand caused by rain run-off and very high groundwater.

“Although only rated to treat 453 litres a second, the site is currently processing 520l/s. Major investment is planned for the site, with £26 million earmarked to expand the site capacity by 60 per cent to cope with growth in the area and more than £12 million for projects to improve the ecological health of the river.

“Storm releases are necessary to prevent flooding to homes, schools, and businesses in the area.”

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