Thames Water faces further scrutiny following ecological data controversy 

The following statement was received from Pete Devery of the Tidmarsh Fly-fishing Syndicate on the river Pang on 25 October and we’re happy to reproduce it below in its entirety.

The numbers in square brackets refer to the time at which the matter was discussed at WBC’s Scrutiny Commission meeting on 11 October 2023 (which Pete Devery attended, the video of which you can see here. The meeting itself was covered by Penny Post and you can see our report by clicking here and scrolling down to “Water scrutiny”.

Thames Water has issued an apology to West Berkshire Council’s Scrutiny Commission for presenting inaccurate sewage pollution data. The troubled water company faced questions from local councillors and environmental groups at a special meeting of the commission on 11th October. 

The company apologised to the commission and councillors for presenting potentially misleading data regarding an incident on September 21st, 2023, involving the River Pang. Data presented stated that there were no sewage leaks from the Hampstead Norreys wastewater treatment works (WWTW) but omitted that sewage leaks were occurring from three other Thames Water operated WWTWs during the same time. [49′ 19″: Sewage leaks confirmed via Thames Water WWTW data: Bucklebury 20-23/9; Chapel Row 20-21/9; Beenham 21/9.]

In another instance of presenting potentially misleading data to the commission, Thames Water stated there were no sewage leaks from Hampstead Norreys, Pangbourne or Compton WWTW’s during 2022. This same claim had been repeatedly made to media, including the BBC and ITN, when the Pang’s ecology downgrade was announced by the Environment Agency (EA) in August. Again, the company failed to declare 243 sewage leaks in 2022, totalling 1,619 hours – into the Pang watercourse through its WWTW’s at Beenham, Chapel Row, and Bucklebury. [46′ 15″ Thames Water data shows in 2022 there were 243 sewage leaks totalling 1,619 hours into the Pang watercourse through WWTW’s at Beenham (35), Chapel Row (84), and Bucklebury (124).]   

The Pang, one of only 260 chalk streams globally, is the subject of mounting concern due to the ongoing deterioration of its ecological status. Through multiple EA tests over a nine-year period the ecological rating of the Pang has declined from “Good” between 2014 and 2016, to “Moderate” in 2019, to its current “Poor” status announced in August 2023. 

During the commission meeting the EA also reconfirmed it is currently investigating the decline of the Pang’s ecological status under Water Framework Directive classifications. Yet, despite thousands of hours of sewage pouring into the river, a consistent ecological status decline over nine years and confirmation of the live EA investigation, Thames Water’s Director of Sustainability shockingly claimed that describing the situation on the Pang as an “ecological disaster” is inaccurate. [1hr 15′ 30″]

Thames Water further alarmed stakeholders when it was revealed that even with a projected spend of £18.7 billion between 2025 and 2030 – and an associated 39% rise in customer bills – the company expect sewage leaks from combined storm overflows to reduce by only 28% by 2030. Based on this estimate the Pang may continue to experience over 100 sewage leaks from Thames Water WWTW’s by 2030. 

“This apology highlights a recurring pattern of Thames Water minimising their environmental mismanagement unless challenged by local campaigners,” Peter Devery, Secretary of the Tidmarsh Fly Fishing Syndicate, commented. “To hear the company’s Director of Sustainability downplay the ecological deterioration of the Pang was horrifying. If multiple sewage leaks are allowed to continue for seven more years, the Pang will be at death’s door by 2030. The situation demands urgent action and resolution from Thames Water.” 

“Yet again communities are having to hold failing water companies to account for their often illegal sewage discharges in protected chalk streams like the Pang,” James Wallace, CEO, River Action added. “It breaks my heart to see the river I grew up on die at the hands of ineptitude and greed. Expecting serial polluters to self-monitor and report is another reminder that our Government is incapable of fulfilling its basic regulatory responsibilities. We need Ministers to instigate a total overhaul of the Environment Agency and the water industry, with Thames Water made to expedite urgent investment in cleaning up its mess. Anything less will be political suicide.”  

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Covering: Newbury, Thatcham, Hungerford, Marlborough, Wantage, Lambourn, Compton, Swindon & Theale