Regatta London cancellation highlights pressures facing the river Thames

Adverse weather conditions forced Regatta London organisers last week to cancel the UK’s first mass paddlesports event, meant to take place last Sunday 29 September.

Last Friday they announced that weather conditions meant they were unable to run it safely, saying in a statement: ‘We have consulted with our independent safety experts, the Port of London Authority, The Environment Agency and Thames Water, and we have no option but to cancel the event. We share the disappointment of all those involved, but the health and safety of our event participants and our team must be our main priority.’

In times of high rainfall, London’s sewerage system becomes overloaded and discharges waste into the Thames through Combined Sewer Overflows or CSOs. Last week that led to sewage discharging into the river Thames, and with more rain forecast, further discharges are likely. 

Organisers were also concerned about the risk of high winds during the event and that an operational closure of the Thames Barrier might be needed, which would have prevented the planned test closure from happening – a key element for the event running safely. On Sunday night, the Thames Barrier did have an operational closure, to prevent London from flooding, and again on October 1st.

The cancellation demonstrates the huge pressures our rivers face, and the urgency of Thames21’s mission. The Thames and its tributaries are struggling to cope with pollution from raw sewage, plastic waste, and pollutants washing in from an increasingly busy road network. Severe weather, more frequent due to climate change, intensifies all these pressures, as well as making rivers more prone to flooding.

While the new Thames Tideway Tunnel, when it opens in 2023, will radically reduce the number of sewage discharges between Hammersmith and Beckton, more needs to be done to make our rivers truly healthy.

‘We’re incredibly disappointed that Regatta London had to be cancelled at the weekend but the safety of participants must come first,’ said Debbie Leach, CEO of Thames21.  ‘The River Thames is a fantastic natural asset for everyone to enjoy and appreciate – but only when it is safe.’

 ‘The fact the Regatta had to be cancelled shows there is still much work to be done to ensure our rivers are healthy. We urgently need the new Thames Tideway Tunnel, along with more Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems and wetlands to help soak up and clean flood waters, more river restorations, and an end to plumbing misconnections. And we need tighter regulation of wet wipe labelling – the flushing of wet wipes down our toilets, along with fat and oils, helps to overload our already creaking sewage system.’

Regatta London will contact all participants who bought public places by Friday 4 October with regards to any deferment of places to Regatta London 2020 and / or refunds.

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