East Garston Flood and Pollution Forum - Annual Update
The East Garston Flood and Pollution Forum (formerly the East Garston Flood Forum
At the Annual Parish Meeting held on 20 April 2023, Martyn Wright gave a brief update on the ongoing sewer problems in East Garston and pollution in the River Lambourn.
But he started with an announcement that, bearing mind the subject matter of the briefing, the name of the East Garston Flood Forum has now changed to East Garston Flood and Pollution Forum.
Chalk streams are extremely rare. There are only about 250 in world of which around 200 are in England, mainly in the South, and we are extremely fortunate to have one of them, the River Lambourn, running through our village. It is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and as a Special Area of Conservation, the highest levels of environmental protection.
However, in 2019, at East Garston Sewage Pumping Station, Thames Water discharged untreated, unfiltered sewage into the river for 228 hours, in over 100 “spills”. In the drought year of 2022, about six hours of discharges occurred. There have been more discharges this spring and an Environmental Information Request has been submitted to confirm the number of hours so far this year.
The discharges contain not just human waste but highly damaging chemicals such as bleach and detergents – everything, in fact, that goes down our toilets and sinks, and from our washing machines and dishwashers.
At last, this nationwide issue is becoming a hot topic, in news media and in Parliament.
Why is it happening in East Garston?
Basically, the sewer system can’t cope at certain times of the year. But our problem is a bit different to many sites that have been highlighted on TV or in the newspapers.
Our sewers are not often affected by storm flooding, but do suffer from groundwater ingress filling the old, failing pipework until the pumping station can’t cope. Thames Water is granted a permit from the Environment Agency for “overspills” (discharges) in severe storm conditions, but that permit does not cover flooding from groundwater.
TW is in breach of its permit and EA have done nothing about it. The EA say it cannot bring a prosecution unless they can prove damage has been done, which is a bit like saying you shouldn’t be fined for speeding unless it can be proven that you’ve killed someone.
Despite TW’s claimed ethos of transparency, much of the information that has been established has had to be discovered through a series of questions submitted through the Environment Information Regulations.
What’s been done?
There is no doubt that TW has carried out a large number of repairs and sewer relining work over the last few years. But the end result is that we are still suffering from sewer flooding through groundwater ingress, maybe not as much, but the problem still remains. Further investigations to find leaks is ongoing whilst the water table is high enough to be able to trace them, and not so high that they are covered.
It was also explained that private sewers, that feed into the main sewers, also leak groundwater which contributes to the problem, with TW having no powers to enforce private owners to co-operate with repair work.
What’s to be done?
It is felt that significant action is needed to make any real difference. Nibbling away at the problem won’t achieve much as the sewer network continues to decay.
The issue is being escalated. Councillors Clive Hooker, Howard Wollaston and our MP, Laura Farris, have been very supportive along with our Parish Council. They are calling in some senior people from TW and EA to a meeting to demand an effective solution.
What can you do to help?
Martyn appealed for support from local residents to write to Laura Farris, our councillors, TW and EA, to express their concerns. Only with increasing pressure will anything be achieved. He also invited those interested, to join EGFPF to keep up to date with developments and to share their thoughts and suggestions. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to be added to the newsletter list.
Important note: Martyn also briefly mentioned a separate, unrelated, problem which took place shortly before the meeting on 20 April in which the sewerage pipe a bit further east of where Thames Water had been working was fractured. It appears that this was because it was in fact in a slightly different position from where the maps suggested. This has now been repaired and has had no bearing on the ongoing sewer inadequacy issue.