18/10/2012 from http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/four-million-litres-of-sewage-flow-in-to-thames-every-day-8215845.html
Nearly four million litres of sewage a day is leaking into rivers in London and the South-East because plumbers are connecting household pipes to the wrong drains.
Thames Water said the foul waste from misconnected sewers - totalling one and a half Olympic swimming pools’ worth – causes untold environmental damage and more should be done to prevent it.
The problem occurs when household and businesses’ drains – connected to appliances such as dishwashers, washing machines, basins and toilets - are wrongly connected to the surface water drain, instead of the foul water system, resulting in untreated sewage, rather than rainwater, entering the local river and damaging wildlife habitats.
Engineers are able to trace which premises are responsible, with one in ten households affected.
Currently local councils are responsible for making sure homeowners fix the problem, while water companies and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are accountable for tackling the pollution.
But Thames Water want a change in the law to allow it to have powers to ensure households comply, as it believes not enough is being done to rectify the problem.
Allowing it to properly enforce fixing the misconnected pipes will not only reduce the environmental damage, but also cut down on the company’s water treatment costs, it believes.
In written evidence to the Government on the draft Water Bill, it said a “minor regulatory change” would have “significant environmental benefit.
“While companies are accountable for tackling this pollution, enforcing work at private properties to address it is the responsibility of local authorities, who are not incentivised or always resourced to give it the priority it warrants.
“Granting companies these powers, in addition to local authorities, would make the resolution of misconnections potentially more efficient for local authorities, companies and customers. It would represent a minor regulatory change for a significant environmental benefit.”
A spokesman for Thames Water said it wanted to put pressure on the Government to tackle the problem.
He said: “Too often this problem is ‘out of sight, out of mind’. But it is significant, and we want to properly enforce compliance, along with local authorities, because it will make a big difference.”
The government said it has examined empowering water companies to enforce changes to plumbing within households.
But it has not recommended extra legislation to effectively permit them to bring prosecutions if homeowners do not comply is currently needed.
Instead, it has made a commitment to work “with the general public on such matters as misconnections to the sewerage system and disposal of fats, to raise awareness and encourage action”.
Defra said it was also working with the Environment Agency and water companies in a range of trials to assess the viability of expanding the use of Environment Agency anti-pollution works notices – powers given to the company to prevent activities that contribute to water pollution - as “an alternative approach to enforce misconnections” when homeowners who can afford it have refused to have work done to change the pipes.
A spokesman for Defra added: “Misconnected pipes can lead to water pollution and we are working closely with the Environment Agency to support a number of public awareness campaigns to highlight the problems that can be caused. Water companies have already started to look at ways to tackle misconnections effectively.”
The Draft Water Bill proposes an overhaul of the water industry to help keep bills down and encourage innovation, while also dealing with issues such as the problem of a growing population and less certain water supplies.
Under the proposals all businesses and public sector bodies in England will be able to switch their water and sewerage suppliers, allowing them to obtain more competitive prices.