The Anonymous Widower

Thames Water Can’t Win

There is a big row brewing in London about the Super Sewer that will run down the middle of the Thames.

The problem isn’t about foul water, but mainly about heavy rain causing problems, when it overloads the current system, which then causes foul water to be forced out onto the streets and into the Thames.

When I went down the sewers, I was given a presentation on the Super Sewer and totally understand that something must be done.

The question is what.

Some things don’t help.

London had 55,000 sewage blockages last year.  Many are caused by inappropriate things, like chip fat, disposable nappies and general rubbish being put down the toilet. I’ve been told and not by Thames Water, I should add, that in tower blocks some residents are too lazy to walk down with their rubbish and use the toilet instead. There was also the notorious fatberg in Leicester Square outside a fast food restaurant.

Thames Water has launched a Bin it – Don’t Block it campaign.

There are also lots of people who have concreted over their front garden, which means that the water now runs off immediately.

You could argue that if you have a concreted front garden, then you should pay an extra drainage rate.  I have a small patio between my front door and the road and wouldn’t mind paying a charge on a pro-rata basis. I also have a mature tree, which I think is a hornbeam,  between the patio and the road, which might be bad for my hay fever, but it soaks up an awful load of water.

My Roadside Tree – A Hornbeam?

On a similar tack, new buildings should have plenty of green space and trees.  But often this restricts the places to park cars and other vehicles.

Those that object to the Super Sewer use two main arguments.

The first is that it might not work and the second is that it will cost too much.

But most of the opposition is just the usual Nimbys, who don’t want construction near them. How many of these peple use disposable nappies on their babies?  We never did in London, as in those days of the 1970s, there was still an affordable nappy service, where clean nappies were delivered regularly and the dirty ones taken away.  The trouble is today’s parents are seduced by advertising.  They may be all for saving the whale and the tiger, but when it comes to stopping sewage blockages, then that is not their problem.

So what do I think should be done?

Obviously, we first need to stop the blockages.  This is mainly a publicity problem to get people to change their bad habits.  If they won’t then more draconian solutions like the banning of disposable nappies and extra water taxes on fast food restaurants will be pushed for and might have to come in.

One idea I’d like to see tried is a SewerCam on the Greenway, showing what was going on beneath their feet in the Northern Outfall Sewer.

Thames Water have the start of a private museum at the old Abbey Mills Pumping Station, but where is the London Museum of Water and Sewage?

New technology has a part to play too.

On the Olympic Park all of the toilets and grass watering is going to be fed from recycled water, in part taken from the Northern Outfall Sewer.

Are London’s many parks kept green in the same way.  I suspect many just use mains water, which just adds to the problem.

Surely someone could come up with a small water purification plant, that uses water collected from say housing estates to water the nearby parks.

We should also stop the covering of gardens with concrete and decking and make sure that all new buildings reuse all of the water they collect on their roofs.

But I’m afraid that if we use all the tricks we have available, we will probably need to put a Super Sewer under the Thames.

August 3, 2011 - Posted by | News | , , , , ,


  1. Many of the groups objecting are trying to save Greenfield sites from use. There is absolutely no sense in ruining the ecology of a green area to improve the the quality of the water in the river. Also as you point out – green land performs a natural water management function and absorbing and slowly releasing. Finally, local authorities need to take ownership – hungry for increasing income from taxes they approve building dense high rise apartments without any consideration or legislation for greywater reuse, rainwater capture, SUDS or other such initiatives to minimise impact of the increasing population. Good conservation should be all encompassing. If you care about cleaning up the river but don’t want to ruin londons green spaces as a consequence, visit & sign the petition.

    Comment by C Parramore | August 4, 2011 | Reply

    • I have looked at the site, but won’t be signing the petition.

      London has a serious roblem and if we all lived a more green lifestyle, things would be different. Many of us will, but most of us won’t.

      For a start we should ban disposable nappies or at least tax them heavily. Every sewage engineer I’ve ever talked to and that includes one who develops small eco-sewage works for the developing world, says they are the biggest problem. And of course, when they are fished out, they have to go into landfill.

      The other simple thing that could be done is to make all new buildings with a large area have a green roof. If Adnams in Suffolk can do it, so can Tescos. (See my post about Flooding in East Yorkshire today) By the way, some cities in Canada, Japan and the US actually insist on this.

      I think that the Super Sewer will eventually be built, but later than is planned. Various small developments to the curent sewage system will hold the line. Some have been used on the Olympic Park and people will argue why if they can be done there, can’t they be done elsewhere. For instance, do the boroughs who are against the Super Sewer, use recycled sewage and rainwater to water the parks and gardens. If they don’t then their protests are invalid.

      The other point is an engineeering one.

      Tunnelling is a very expensive option. That is why when he built the London Sewers, Joseph Bazalgette built the large outfall sewers above ground. The Northern one is now grassed over and is the Greenway. How many people when they walk or cycle along it, know what is under their feet? There isn’t even an information board.

      So as tunnelling is so expensive, when they build tunnels engineers are always looking for better and more affordable methods. That s why the CrossRail station at Canary Wharf is being build bottom up in the dock. All of this is described in the July 2011 edition of Modern Railways. They have an article on how modern tunnels are being built with as little disruption as possible, or by reusing existing infrastructure.

      Recently I went in one of the giant caissons that Marc Brunel used to build the Thames Tunnel at the Brunel Museum. He sunk one on the North bank and one on the south and then just dug between them.

      I don’t know how they propose to build the Super Sewer, but I suspect that one way to do it would be to sink two or three large holes in the middle of the river and then join them up. I shall be doing a bit of research.

      I would suspect that the trouble comes when you connect the sewers in places along the river to this giant mid-river sewer. The trouble is that the connections will need to be close to the river and there just aren’t too many places to do engineering work. But even here don’t underestimate what could be done. A caisson could be sunk close inshore by the river and then connected by horizobntal tunnelling. It’s not my area, so don’t take it too seriously.

      Incidentally, there is another large tunnelling project going on in London and that is the creation of tunnels to bring electricity into the centre. So have you ever wondered where the pylons are? In the north of the city, the Regent’s Canal has a 400,000 volt main in the towpath and it is cooled by canal water. The system is thirty years old and it has been so successful, it is being substantially upgraded.

      Comment by AnonW | August 4, 2011 | Reply

  2. Dear Anon,
    I am slightly confused. On one hand you recognise that greenspaces are essential to London’s waste water/sewage system, but then on the other hand seem to be endorsing the destruction of them to build the super sewer.
    By the way, it’s a shame you feel anonymous, You seem to have a lot to say, so stand up and be counted.

    Comment by Toni Davey | August 4, 2011 | Reply

    • I’m not saying they should be destroyed, but we have to use some of them during construction phases of essential projects. Look at how Gibson Square is being used as the entry point for a shaft to cool the overheated Victoria line. Once finished the Square will be restored. I would suspect that some green spaces will be borrowed for the Super Sewer, but I suspect two things, the super sewer will be delayed as long as possible for engineering and water reasins and when they built it, they will use the best construction techniques to make the green spaces better. One point though, I have heard in some discussions, is that whilst a construction project is going on, people have less places to park their cars. So what! That was said about the North London Line, but now it’s finished the only moan you hear about it, is that the trains get overcrowded at some times. In general people think it’s a good thing. I do, but then as I can’t drive as I’ve had a stroke, I use public transport to go everywhere. Even IKEA!

      You question my being anonymous. It is more about that’s how you feel when you’re widowed and people ignore you and think you might run off with their partner. But I also keep my name off the site to avoid spam. Howver, if you send a message through the contact form, or ask me to contact you personally in a reply, I’ll send a reasoned reply.

      Comment by AnonW | August 4, 2011 | Reply

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