Appalled ocean rower backs ‘supersewer’

Sewage in Thames a “disgusting embarrassment” to London

Roz Savage tells MP Zac Goldsmith’s Thames Tunnel Now event

Roz Savage, the ocean rower, is appealing for opponents of a super sewer for London to take the long-term view, saying: “We need to accept some short-term pain for the long-term gain.”

The 44-year-old told a House of Commons reception, hosted by environmentalist and conservative MP Zac Goldsmith, that London’s antiquated sewer network is a “disgusting embarrassment” that urgently needs tackling.

Zac said: “The existing sewer system is remarkable, given that it is 160 years old. But it needs an overhaul. We put enough raw sewage into the river to fill the Albert Hall 450 times, and that has to stop.” He added; “In addition to the environmental imperative, this project will create thousands of local jobs, and high quality apprenticeships, and contribute to getting us back on track economically.”

Roz echoed his comments and on the predicted impact of the Thames Tunnel’s construction on people living near to the river, she added: “I quite understand their concerns but sometimes you have to put up with short-term pain for long-term gain.”

The Westminster event followed a close-up inspection of one of the overflow vents. Roz rowed under Putney Bridge to see for herself the human effluent, sanitary items and other detritus that run from the combined sewer overflow (CSO) beneath the busy Thames crossing, just yards away from riverside restaurants and prestigious rowing clubs.

Putney Bridge CSO discharges 34 times a year on average, accounting for 68,200 of the 39m tonnes of sewage that annually enters the river from the 36* most-polluting CSOs built into London’s overstretched Victorian sewer network.

Roz, the first woman to row across the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans, braved London’s filthy waters in her role as ambassador for Thames Tunnel Now (TTN) – a coalition of 18 environmental groups who support the proposed Thames Tunnel, which will stop sewage entering the river.

After her trip to see the Putney sewer overflow, Roz addressed a TTN reception at the House of Commons attended by nearly 200 supporters of the project. Roz said: “It’s a disgusting embarrassment that we are dumping hundreds of thousands of tonnes of sewage into the river every week. It is also a serious health hazard and I hate to think what visitors to the Olympics will think. I’ve rowed through some pretty grim stuff on my travels but the Thames is heart-breakingly returning to the open sewer it used to be 200 years ago. The Thames Tunnel cannot come soon enough.”

As little as 2mm of rain is enough to overload the capital’s sewerage system and cause untreated effluent to spill into the river. Disease-ridden sewage discharges, which often kill fish and other wildlife, take place more than once a week on average.

The 14-mile ‘supersewer’ will take the sewage that currently enters the river away for treatment. The width of three London buses, it will run from Acton in the west to Abbey Mills in the east, according to proposals.

Debbie Leach, chief executive of environmental charity Thames21, lead agency of the TTN coalition, said: “The River Thames is the greatest open space running across London, but we are failing completely to protect it. The Thames is being ruined for the people of London as well as for the amazing wildlife that depends on it. We need to change things. The Thames Tunnel project is vital. It needs to be delivered now.”

Phil Burston, of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), a TTN member, said: “The Thames Tunnel is a once in a generation opportunity to leave a sewage-free Thames as our legacy for this century and beyond. The Thames Tunnel Now coalition believes it is the only viable and cost effective way to deliver that legacy.”

Phil Stride, Thames Water’s head of London Tideway Tunnels, said: “We are in listening mode right now, midway through the second phase of our public consultation for the Thames Tunnel. We are eager to hear people’s views and concerns about how best to deliver this must-do project to clean up London’s river.”

A planning application (Development Consent Order**) for the tunnel, forecast by Defra to cost £4.1bn, is set to be submitted in 2013. Provided approval is granted, engineers expect to break ground in 2016, and complete the scheme in 2023.

The Thames Tunnel is the third phase of the London Tideway Improvements programme. Phase one – £675m of upgrades to London’s five main sewage works – is already under way, as is phase two – the £635m Lee Tunnel, a four-mile sewage tunnel to tackle the Abbey Mills CSO in Stratford, taking sewage that currently spills to the River Lee for treatment at Beckton sewage works in Newham


Media contacts

Emily Braham of Thames21
020 7213 0166
07827 352 675

Tim Webb of the RSPB:
020 7808 1246
07921 740 753


Images of Roz inspecting the combined sewer overflow are available from Emily or Tim, along with images of the CSO overflow and its impact on riverlife.

Thames Tunnel Now [] is an expanding collective of environmental and wildlife charities and amenity groups, which came together in October 2011 to protest at potential delays to plans to stop sewage pollution in the River Thames through the construction of the Thames Tunnel project. TTN includes:

  • Angling Trust,
  • Barge Association,
  • Inland Waterways Association,
  • London Corinthian Sailing Club,
  • London Sustainability Exchange,
  • London Wildlife Trust,
  • Mammal Society,
  • Marine Conservation Society,
  • National Association of Boat Owners,
  • Putney Bridge Canoe Club,
  • River Thames Society,
  • Royal Society for the Protection of Birds,
  • Rowers Against Sewage,
  • Salmon & Trout Association,
  • Thames21,
  • Thames Anglers Conservancy,
  • Thames Rivers Restoration Trust and
  • WWF.

Roz Savage

Roz is a British ocean rowerenvironmental campaigner, and keynote speaker. She holds four world records for ocean rowing, including first woman to row three oceans: the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian. She has rowed over 15,000 miles, taken around 5m oarstrokes, and spent cumulatively over 500 days of her life at sea in a 23-foot rowboat. She uses her ocean rowing adventures to inspire action on the top environmental challenges facing the world today. For more info about Roz, visit her website:

For pics of Roz in action, visit her Flickr page:

To download the highest-res images from Flickr, follow these steps:

1. Select the picture you want

2. From the row of icons immediately above the picture, click on “All Sizes”

3. On the next screen, you will see “Original” as the largest size available in the row of options above the photo. Click on this.

4. A link will appear, saying “Download the Original size”. Click on this.

5. And the image will be downloaded to your computer.

Further detail on the Thames Tunnel

* There are 36 CSOs that the Enviornment Agency requires Thames Water to tackle. Thirty-four are tackled by the Thames Tunnel, one by the Lee Tunnel and one by other means at Wick Lane sewage pumping depot.

** The water company will apply not a planning permission, as is currently the case, but rather for a ‘Development Consent Order.’

Visit the Thames Tunnel website for more:

Or for pictorial summary, see our Thames Tideway Tunnel Infographic.