A group of outdoor swimmers known as Brrrr! have complained about an unknown sewage release in advance of their Christmas Day swim. 

The release came from the Witney Sewage Treatment Works location in the early hours of Christmas Day, but the swimmers did not receive the notification until 24 hours later on Boxing Day. This left the group unaware of the health risks presented by entering the water. 

In response to the delay, the #EndSewagePollution group alongside Clean Our River Thames (CORT) is organising a protest this Sunday against Thames Water’s ongoing pollution of the rivers surrounding Oxford. 

Swimmer and protest organiser Jo Sandelson said, “Thames Water dumped us in it. My swim group were swimming in raw sewage on Christmas Day and weren’t alerted until 24 hours later about that sewage release.”

Ms Sandelson is also a Liberal Democrat candidate for Oxford City Council. She added, “Notifications of more dumping are happening now on an almost daily basis and this is illegal outside of heavy rain events.” 

“We are protesting against the endless stream of sewage being pumped into our precious river by Thames Water. It’s destroying our wildlife habitat, our well-being.”

Since Christmas Day, Thames Water has discharged sewage into the rivers at least 16 more times, and warns that each release can take four days to clear. 

A Thames Water spokesperson told the Oxford Mail: “We’re sorry for the delay in the Witney discharge notification being sent to river users, which was due to an error in our automated email alert system which is currently being trialed across six sites in Oxford.”

“We’re working to make our alerts as accurate as possible, but there might be times during the trial where there are slight inaccuracies or delays in email alerts reaching those who’ve signed up for them.”

“Our aim will always be to try and do the right thing for our rivers and for the communities who love and value them. We’re increasing sewage treatment capacity at our sewage works in the area, including Witney and Oxford, and we’re also committed to continuing our industry-leading trial to provide real-time alerts of sewage discharges in 2022.”

Ms Sandelson said the Environment Agency is “underfunded and lacks the resources to monitor the hundreds of spillages every year.” The Environment agency said its staff respond to pollution incidents 24/7, adding that water companies are legally required to report any breaches of their permits. A spokesperson said, “We will always seek to hold those responsible for environmental harm to account. Specific action will depend on the nature of the offence, up to and including prosecution.”

The protest this weekend will take place in Port Meadow, at the Wolvercote end by Godstow car park. Protestors will be meeting at 11:30am. It will be a peaceful protest with notably non-political placards. Featured guest speakers include Layla Moran MP, in addition to a number of scientists and campaigners. 

Image: Danielle / CC BY-SA 3.0

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