London’s sewerage system wasbuilt during the Victorian era todeal with the capital’s sewageproblems. At that time, London’ssewage was mostly depositedinto open street sewers, or oneo the many Thames tributaries,with most o the waste eventuallyentering into the River Thames.This oul material, originatingrom homes, actories andworkshops rom all acrossLondon, was so great that itrendered the River Thameslargely devoid o aquatic lie. Sir Joseph Bazalgette designedmagnicent interceptor sewers,ollowing the ‘Great Stink’ o1858 to capture the oul materialthat was previously going into theRiver Thames. It is these sewersthat still orm the backbone oLondon’s sewerage system today. Although Bazalgette’s designstopped most o London’ssewage entering the capital’sriver, the River Thames remainedin a degraded state due to somuch pollution rom heavyindustry in the capital and romsewage treatment works. Somuch so, that in the 1950’sthe capital’s river was declared‘biologically dead’ by scientistsat the Natural History Museum.The introduction o the CleanRivers Act in 1960, the constructiono new sewage works by ThamesWater and its predecessorsduring the 1960s and 1970s,and the privatisation o the waterindustry, have all resulted in urthermajor investment at our sewagetreatment works. Over the last 30years, we have seen the dramaticclean up o the River Thames,making it today an example oa recovering ecosystem which iso great ecological importance.However, we are still relyingon a sewerage system built inVictorian times. This system wasbuilt to meet the requirementso a smaller population. With thegrowth in London’s populationthe system, which was designedto overfow into the River Thameswhen ull, is starting to reach itscapacity. This means overfows arebecoming more requent. Suchsewage discharges degrade thewater quality o the River Thamesand inhibit the ecological potentialo the estuary; a problem that isonly likely to get worseas London’s population grows.
The proposed Thames Tunnelwill help to ensure that theexcellent progress in cleaningup the river is not reversed.
The River Thames –a recoveringecosystem
Since the 1950s great strides havebeen taken to improve the qualityo the tidal Thames, which wasvirtually lieless as a result o grosspollution. However, the success inenvironmental improvements, withthe welcome return o sh andother wildlie, is under continuousthreat rom the discharges romthe combined sewer overfows.The Thames Tunnel will end thescandal o millions o tonnes osewage overfowing into the riverannually, which seriously damagesthe ecology o the Thamesand increases the health riskto the public.
Chairman, River Thames Society