FOLLOWING the heavy rainfall over the festive period, sewage fungus has been sighted in West Oxfordshire.

Homes in the district were flooded after the heavy downpour, but now the impact on the environment has been noted.

A spokesperson for Thames Water said the volume of sustained heavy rainfall over the Christmas and New Year period meant the Witney sewage works had received and treated far more flow than it is designed to cope with.

In those circumstances, once the available treatment and storage capacity is exceeded, the works overflows to the Colwell Brook.

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Campaign group Windrush Against Sewage Pollution (WASP) has for years sought to prevent untreated sewage entering the River Windrush.

Ashley Smith, from WASP, said: “We accept the heavy rain would cause some problems but it was still spilling into the New Year and we could see the fungus and disgusting stuff going into the River Windrush from the Colwell Brook.

“Dog walkers were there, and oblivious to what was going on.”

The Thames Water spokesperson continued: “We very much regret that this has once again been necessary, to prevent the flooding which would otherwise take place inside and outside homes as the network backed up.

“Our view is that discharges of untreated sewage are unacceptable, even when they are legally permitted, and want to accelerate work to stop them being necessary.

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“That is why work to increase the treatment capacity at Witney sewage treatment works, by about a third, has been brought forward to the earliest possible completion date, which is likely to be in 2023.

“We’re also continuing to deliver our drainage strategy work locally, which is reducing the amount of groundwater that infiltrates into the sewers long after the rain has stopped.”

Meanwhile, an Environment Agency spokesman said: “Limited release of sewage into rivers and streams during periods of heavy rain is sometimes necessary to prevent people’s homes and businesses from flooding, but only under very strict conditions.

“We are investigating reports of sewage entering Colwell Brook at Witney last month. Our officers did not find any effect from the incident on the River Windrush.

“Anyone who suspects pollution in our rivers or streams is asked to report it to us on 0800 807060.”

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Despite the incident, Mr Smith said a new Bill in Parliament will bring positive changes.

Shropshire MP Philip Dunne’s Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill 2019-21 is set to get its second reading in the House of Commons on January 22.

The Bill places a duty on water companies to ensure that untreated sewage is not discharged into rivers and other inland waters.

Mr Smith said: “This could be the year we finally see a 21st century approach to sewage treatment.

“However, at the moment it’s a repetition of what we’ve seen in previous years.

“Just the journey of putting the Bill in front of Parliament is a game changer itself.

“It’s got the attention of MPs and the water industry, and has aided the profile of what’s going on.”

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