During the first week of January Eton Wick and surrounding lands were hit by floods. Roundmoor Ditch and Boveney Ditch broke their banks flooding Dorney Common and the farmland surrounding Eton Wick. The flood waters also backed up into Colenorton Brook. During this time residents were out near the water protecting their homes from rising levels, and walkers and their dogs continued to visit the affected areas. As the flooding was due to expansion of what was thought to be a natural watercourse, (rather than flooded drains in a built up area) it would not have occurred to villagers that raw sewage would be present in the floodwater.
In early January, Mark Cannon from Tilstone Close contacted the press as he noticed fish dying in stream.
Towards the end of January Thames Water pump sets were situated next to Dorney Common cattle grid. Residents querying the works were informed (a) the stream had become polluted by chemicals leeching from the land, or, (b) there had been a minor leak from the sewage works and the stream was being aerated to prevent damage to stream life.
It was only as the water receded and levels dropped within banks that we noticed the slimy, smelly coating on land and property and the silver-grey colloidal appearance of the usually clear stream water. Our village had become completely surrounded by smelly, hazardous effluent.
On 25/2 we found a swan in distress, fish were floating dead on the surface and a fox and wildfowl were found dead on the banks. This started an intense, frustrating initial investigation with EA, TW and RBWM. TW engineers visited our properties immediately. They agreed it was a disgrace but confirmed TW were discharging raw sewage from storm tanks under an open ended licence from the Environment Agency. We questioned why they had failed to alert residents and dog walkers immediately of the health hazard. Engineers replied TW had not displayed signs as they did not want to cause panic! Although extremely hesitant, they agreed to consider sending a letter to residents.
The Environment Agency blamed TW completely, even though they are responsible for issuing the licence. After many calls we were able to discover EA had advised Public Health England and the local authority of public health issues on 6/2. Many days later it transpired EA had only communicated to South Bucks District Council not RBWM. TW and EA were fully aware of the public health hazard and risk to pets and wildlife but failed to communicate to residents or display signs in affected areas.
During many conversations with RBWM throughout 25-26/2, Environmental Health advised it was not RBWM’s responsibility, RBWM had no knowledge or notification and could only advise residents on how to behave around the sewage if they came in contact.
Also during 25-26/2 Swan Lifeline advised swans, covered in grey toxic slime, needed to be rescued. Despite many calls to all parties, TW/EA would not agree on the safe level of contamination allowing the birds to be rescued. Too dangerous to rescue contaminated swans but acceptable not to advise residents when the discharge commenced!
As many residents were unaware, on 26/2 we put together a two page leaflet of findings at that time and delivered to 150 houses close to the stream including ETC councillors, RBWM councilor and Eton Mayor. Lead members at RBWM, our local councilor and our MP also received emails. Councillor Lawless confirmed he was aware and concerned by the sewage problems at this time. Residents emails and calls immediately started to make a difference.
On the evening of 26/2 we received a call from Craig Miller (interim Head of Public Protection at RBWM). Cllr. Cox (lead member for Environmental Health) had passed the matter on. Whilst Mr. Miller initially pointed out RBWM did not have any jurisdiction over TW, he ultimately agreed RBWM would represent residents in the matter. RBWM did not think there would be a public safety issue providing villagers kept away from water or followed safe practice when in contact. We explained villagers on the whole were not aware of content/risk or had assumed the cattle grid peroxide pumps had resolved all bacterial hazards. It was also a flippant statement to make when residents and their pets were becoming ill with many living next to an open sewer. As TW were failing to raise their head, we suggested RBWM should visit homes.
Mr. Miller did respond quickly and visited Cornwall Close on 27/2; realising the extent of the problem he subsequently took action. Mr. Miller left 19 leaflets for us to distribute to neighbours and confirmed actions and helpful websites in an email advising we could pass on as required. We distributed an update leaflet to residents living close to the streams.
Mr. Miller immediately contacted TW investigating the release and insisting they inform residents. Only after prompting from residents and RBWM did TW water issue a letter, but only to a number of residents. Not all households along the streams received the letter and there was a scattergun approach throughout the village. All parties are well aware this letter was a ‘pat on the head letter’. It trivialized the hazard and did not answer residents questions. The discharging of effluent continued.
On the 11/3 we met with the Environment Agency Fisheries Officer. The Officer also delivered 300 leaflets from the EA (much along the lines of TW letter) for us to deliver. The Officer was however, very helpful in advising the steps required to carefully clean affected water and land, renew gravel banks and introduce fish and invertebrates (following assessment of life remaining). He also pointed out the EA had installed an ‘in line’ water flow monitor assessing standard of contaminated water. However, this was only six houses down from aeration pumps and readings were not taken at the cress pool or behind Cornwall Close/ Queens Road homes where the flow reduced and the contamination gathered.
Following complaints from residents close to Dorney Common, the chemical dosing and aeration pumps were removed from the cattle grid. The equipment should not have been stationed close to residents homes/accessible land as residents ingested spray and contracted stomach bugs. RBWM requested relocation. However, TW removed and failed to relocate despite continuing to discharge effluent.
The whole issue has shown a monumental failure in communication and speed of response.
• Residents have been living next to raw sewage from December without notification
• Wildlife died, residents and their pets became ill
• EA visited our village from early January to investigate damage to watercourse but did not take action.
• EA finally acknowledged discharge and issue of licence to TW.
• Chemical dosing and aeration pumps were installed resulting in contaminated water vapour.
• Public health notices were issued by EA including Public Health England on 6/2
• Neither TW or EA advised residents or the correct authorities including RBWM and ETC
• ETC were aware of discharge but took no action
• RBWM became aware of discharge and took action from 26/2
• Dead wildlife remained on banks as EA/TW/RBWM would not take responsibility for removal due to contamination
• Following complaints EA installed a flow quality meter, but not in areas most affected by contamination
• TW issued a trivializing letter on 3/3, three months after initial discharge
• Aeration pumps were removed rather than relocated whilst discharge continued
• EA issued a statement on 11/3 for two residents to deliver throughout the village
• RBWM have not made a statement to residents
• Windsor MP confirmed in press he was aware of situation but has not responded in support
• ETC initially denied involvement as outside jurisdiction; agencies did not make them aware and residents did not
• Cllr Lawless needed to force the issue with ETC and RBWM as he felt like a lone fighter.
• Despite vastly reduced levels, TW have not yet confirmed a date for the discharge to cease
• TW have apologized to BBC Berks for smell, totally avoiding mention of public health hazard
• TW have not confirmed clean up process and date of commencement.
• EA have confirmed their fish survey verified 95% of life eradicated
• Residents have been left to raise issues in press and BBC local news/radio.
It’s time Thames Water were called to account. Time to stop discharging, clean the affected areas, apologise/make recompense to residents/landowners and investigate others methods of discharging at times of high rainfall.
Fortunately, Dorney Parish Council took early action, summoning EA/TW to their AGM on 19/3. Councillors invited representation from Eton Wick residents allowing us to raise questions directly. Our findings are detailed on the What They’re Saying webpage.
RBWM and ETC are now taking steps to represent residents and a Public Meeting to be attended by all interested authorities/agencies and residents is planned in the very near future.
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