Thames21 calls for partnership solutions for ailing River Lea

Thames21 statement, Tuesday Feb 26

Thames21 is calling for a collaborative approach to help fix the broken urban water cycle in East London and make the River Lea and its tributaries healthy.  Innovative partnership solutions are needed to solve the problems that cause the River Lea to fail disastrously the water quality standards set out in European legislation under the Water Framework Directive.  Frustrated by persistent, visible pollution in the much-loved green space in urban North East London, Hackney residents have uploaded photos and videos via social networking sites urging for a unilateral commitment to improve the state of the river.

Thames21 has identified the multiple sources of pollution in the River Lea: sewage, road run-off and waste water from domestic pipes incorrectly plumbed. Through its Love the Lea campaign, the charity has called for new, concerted and practical action on three fronts: introducing Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS), reducing road run off and the proper regulation of development. The charity emphasises that there is no one person or organisation that can be blamed, but that a collaborative approach is needed.

Thames21’s research with University College London makes clear how the currently over-stretched Deephams Sewage Works forces high levels of e-coli into the Lea, and in addition, that heavy metals and oils are washed into the rivers of East London every time it rains. Up to 10% of homes across North East London are also misconnected, which means dirty water from dishwashers, washing machines and bathrooms is incorrectly plumbed to a drainpipe which flows directly into local rivers.

As the Lea flows through Hackney, it brings with it the pollution from upstream, which is added to by the outputs of storm drains and overflow pipes. The Lea also accumulates rubbish blown in from nearby streets or washed down gutters.  In Hackney, Victorian housing stock and drainage systems mean homes are more likely to rely on the combined drainage system, so misconnections in this area are less of a problem.

Heavy road use and extensive hard paving in Hackney mean that road surface pollution can be washed straight into rivers. These instances can be reduced with the implementation of SuDS, which clean polluted water before it enters rivers.  SuDS could also help reduce local surface water flooding and sewer surcharging caused by the combined sewer system that sends rain water and waste water through the same pipe to Beckton Sewage Treatment works. SuDS in this area would also play a part in cutting the amount of storm water and sewage that overflows into the Thames after rain.

There is considerable scope for this approach in Hackney, with the possibility of attractive green rain gardens neighbouring buildings and green road-side verges lining busy roads. Thames21 is championing this approach in Enfield through the Salmon’s Brook Healthy River Challenge and is calling on Hackney and all London boroughs to follow suit and invest in sustainable solutions for their waterways.

The planned upgrade to Deephams Sewage Treatment Plant is much welcomed and will improve levels of sewage pollution in the river greatly. However to support, extend and increase the life span of the upgrade, SuDs and other activity delivered  in partnership, is essential.

People in the Lower Lea Valley interested in taking part in Thames21’s unique participatory approach to highlighting and improving water quality on the Lea, are invited to join our ‘water quality teams’. Teams of water quality testers will receive training and support to monitor the condition of the river, check for misconnections, pollution sources and sites suitable for SuDS. It is hoped this will help clearly identify specific problem pollution sites and help put pressure on those responsible.