With Covid restrictions in place, and large areas of the catchment under water, practical delivery of projects has had to take something of a back seat this winter. However, we are all now experts at working at home and communicating by Zoom so we’ve managed to continue with (virtual) meetings with landowners, consultants and Agency staff, but are all sorely missing the on-site visits and face-to-face engagement. Hopefully as the tides of flood waters and COVID cases recede we will be able to get back to business as usual.
After the successes of completing the large wetland mosaic and fish refuge at Eythrope near Waddesdon and smaller backwaters at Waterstock, last summer, we have been concentrating on planning for a new bypass channel at Stadhampton, habitat works on the Chalgrove Brook and a fish passage solution at Dorchester, as well as engaging with landowners to offer NFM interventions on the Upper Great Ouse. I look forward to giving you progress reports.
The present levels of agricultural flooding notwithstanding, concerns about pollution continue to dominate my inbox. The greatest public worry continues to be about sewage discharges – and the associated anxieties about water quality, from overflowing treatment works and sewers. Many tell me they have swum in the river in the past and would like to continue to do so, if only they could be assured that sewage discharges were being treated appropriately.
The most common reports are about raw sewage discharges during storm situations. Few treatment works have the capacity to hold all storm runoff from drains or the capacity to separate these from household sewage. The result is that untreated, albeit diluted, sewage can be discharged. The present wet winter has seen many such situations.
I am pleased to say that improvements are on the way. Thames Water has accepted the most recent funding proposals from OFWAT and has now announced a range of funded improvements, by March 2025 – the end of their current 5-year Asset Management Period. The announcement includes new Drainage and Wastewater Management plans and biodiversity enhancements on their land – in particular at Aylesbury, where a new wetland mosaic will be created near the treatment works.
Other improvements will follow their Water industry Natural Environment Programme. These will include improvements to monitoring facilities, increased storm storage capacity – particularly for Chalgrove, Shabbington and Stone and increased treatment capacity at Chinnor and Watlington. Other sites will receive enhancements to reduce phosphorus and other chemical concentrations in their final effluent.
I am pleased to read these plans and not least that some enhancements have been accelerated in our catchment. Nevertheless, there is still a long way to go before we see an end to these continuing incidents. I look forward to the day when our rivers will be safe for swimmers!