Following the pollution of the River Wandle on Monday 17 September, which killed thousands of fish and invertebrates, a meeting yesterday agreed an ambitious vision for a new project not only to restore the river to its pre-pollution condition but also to continue the improvement that had been in progress before the incident. 

The meeting was co-ordinated by the Anglers’ Conservation Association and was attended by the local angling clubs, the Wandle Trust, the Chief Executive of Thames Water, two of the company’s senior directors, fisheries staff from the Environment Agency and was hosted by the National Trust.  Thames Water admitted responsibility for the pollution and apologised unreservedly to everyone concerned.

Agreement was reached between all parties that:

The announcement of this project will not have any bearing whatsoever on any future criminal prosecution of Thames Water by the Environment Agency, whose staff attended the meeting in an advisory capacity only;
There will be an immediate appraisal of the damage caused by the pollution by independent fisheries scientists and ecologists, jointly instructed by all parties;
Thames Water will commit to core funding and supporting a five year rehabilitation plan for the river in partnership with the local community and key land-owners;
Failsafe measures to provide state of the art pollution monitoring at the sewage treatment works will be in place by the end of 2007;
The feasibility of biological tertiary treatment – gravel and reed beds – to improve effluent quality and protect against any future incidents will be investigated on the outflow from Beddington Sewage Treatment Works;
Thames Water will pay compensation to the local angling clubs and angling businesses for their immediate losses;
A web forum should be set up immediately on www.wandletrust.org to capture the views of local people about the measures which should be taken to put right the damage;
A draft plan for rehabilitating the river will be published early in 2008 and the local community invited to comment, including at a public meeting before it is finalised;
Suitable fish should be identified immediately for restocking, which will be undertaken in line with the recommendations of the independent report, but only when it is clear that the river will be able to support the new stocks. 
 
David Owens, Chief Executive of Thames Water, said:  ‘We accept full responsibility for this incident and apologise to the many people who have been affected.  We know that rehabilitation will be a long process, and that significant costs will be involved, but we want to get started as soon as possible.  The first step is to commission an independent survey of the river to assess the damage and identify what work is required.  We are committed to working openly and co-operatively with the Environment Agency, the ACA, angling clubs, the Wandle Trust and the local community on a plan that will not just restore the river but – in the longer term – improve it, for the benefit of people and wildlife.  We are pleased that the Environment Agency are closely involved in this process, which is entirely separate from the ongoing investigation into the incident by their legal team.”

Bob Collington, Wastewater Operations Director of Thames Water, said:  “My whole team are deeply upset by this incident.  It is a huge disappointment after a year in which we have made big improvements to the performance of our sewage treatment works, with the lowest ever number of incidents.  The work we were carrying out at Beddington was part of that process.  Our investigation into what happened hasn’t finished.  But in summary we were cleaning the tertiary treatment filters to improve the quality of the effluent entering the river.  Three of the four sets of filters had been cleaned successfully, using acid and a concentrated bleach solution.  This is a routine operation.  But something went terribly wrong.  Until the investigation is complete, the process has been banned at all our sites.  I can confirm that procedures will be tightened and that we will be installing advanced monitoring equipment, imported from the USA, as soon as possible.”

Mark Lloyd, Executive Director of the Anglers’ Conservation Association said: “whilst everyone regrets that this incident ever happened, we are delighted that Thames Water has responded not only by accepting responsibility and promising to compensate those affected but they have also agreed to go the extra mile and commit to core funding the long term improvement of the river.  This is a very welcome change from a company that the ACA has previously had to fight through the courts.  We hope that this sets a precedent for any future pollution events not only by Thames Water, but by the rest of the water industry.”

Theo Pike, Trustee of the Wandle Trust and Senior Vice President of the Wandle Piscators said: ”we are delighted to have been assured of Thames Water’s commitment to working with the local community to mitigate the effects of this environmental disaster, and provide real partnership in restoring the Wandle to its rightful status as the best urban chalkstream in the world”.

Zoe Colbeck, Property Manager for the National Trust’s Morden Hall Park, said: “The River Wandle is an incredibly import resource for the local community and for wildlife.  Over a number of years we have been working with the Environment Agency and other partners to improve the water quality and associated habitat.  We are delighted that Thames Water have decided to contribute to this process and we are looking forward to working in partnership with them over the coming years. We hope this experience will also help us work more closely with Thames Water across the whole of the SE region.”

Charles Rangeley-Wilson, presenter of the BBC’s Accidental Angler series, said: “Catching and releasing a 2 ½ pound trout from the River Wandle this August was probably the most significant moment in my fishing career.  I’d dreamt about doing this for a decade.  It meant a lot to me that this urban river was recovering from centuries of pollution.  That trout was an old warhorse of a fish and to think that it had endured for so long only to die in this recent, disastrous pollution was very depressing. Despite my despair at that news I’m now really delighted to see that the ACA has worked so quickly with Thames Water and the local community to develop an ambitious plan to get the river back on its upward curve of recovery as soon as possible.”

Notes:

1.      The pollution was caused by sodium hypochlorite which was being used to clean tertiary treatment screens of accumulated bacterial matter and limescale at Beddington Sewage Treatment Works and was released into the river as a result of operator error.

2.      Assessment of the damage is continuing, but it is clear that several tons of fish were killed along with many of the invertebrates and plants in the river.

3.      The River Wandle flows into the tidal Thames through the London Boroughs of Croydon, Sutton, Merton and Wandsworth in South London.

4.      The ACA’s previous press release about the incident can be found at www.a-c-a.org/whatsnew

 

 

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