HUNDREDS of people gathered around Oxfordshire to demand an end to the release of raw sewage into the county’s rivers and streams.

Clean water campaigners were joined by swimmers and councillors at Oxford’s Port Meadow on Saturday in a protest which was part of a reported 80 Dirty Water demonstrations around the region at the weekend. There were also protests in Banbury, Faringdon, Wantage and Witney.

Campaigners condemned the Government’s 2021 blocking of an amendment which would have required water companies to reduce the amount of raw sewage they dumped into rivers.

Thames Water has continued to release untreated sewage into the Thames, Windrush and Evenlode, with repeated discharges in recent weeks from sewage works in Oxford and Witney, among others.

It comes despite the granting of Bathing Water Status to the Wolvercote Mill Stream at Port Meadow.

Speakers at the Port Meadow demonstration included Oxford city councillor Susanna Pressel, who said: “It is absolutely disgusting and disgraceful that Thames Water is continuing to discharge sewage into our streams and rivers, and that the Government is doing almost nothing about it.

“Both Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council have sent strong letters of protest. [The Government] expects us to wait more than 10 years to see just a slight improvement. This is simply not good enough.”

City councillor Jo Sandelson also addressed the gathering, saying: “Just over a year ago my local swimming group was involved in organising a large protest on Port Meadow against river pollution.

“Thames Water has been pouring untreated sewage into our stretch of the River Thames to the north and west of Oxford.

“The Government responded by granting us Bathing Water Status. It sounded like a victory, but actually only means monitoring the pollution, not cleaning up the water.

“Thames Water is still allowed to pollute. They say they are spending a quarter of a billion pounds a year improving and maintaining Witney sewage treatment works but it’s not enough. One hundred new houses lead to 30 tons of sewage being pumped out every day and there are several large developments about to be built within a relatively small radius of Wolvercote Mill Stream.

“The Government must act.”

Oxford Mail: Thames Water protest at Port Meadow. Picture by Steve Dawe

Lucy Grabe-Watson, of Oxford for Nature, said: ‘It’s 2023 and there is as much [sewage] going into our rivers as ever. A quick check on Thames Water’s own map today showed that there are currently overflows in Oxford, Woodstock, Islip, Standlake, Stanton Harcourt; the list goes on.

“Sewage is flowing into all our rivers and streams as we speak. We join Extinction Rebellion and the other groups here today in calling for an immediate crackdown on sewage pollution and legal accountability for Thames Water and other companies responsible.”

April Jones of Extinction Rebellion Oxford, said: “Extinction Rebellion is well aware that the Climate Emergency and a variety of ecological problems are made far worse by ill considered human actions.

“Damaging the climate undermines habitats, reduces crop yield and tends increase the number of extreme weather events.

“The coalition of groups on Port Meadow know, as do the public, that water leaks and sewage dumping are as much Government failures as our Parliament failing to radically improve climate policies to cut emissions quickly.

“There are no excuses, after decades of these problems. The Government’s idea of waiting until 2063 to clean up our rivers and canals is unacceptable and fails to recognise widespread rejection of such an approach by the public.”

City councillor Lucy Pegg, agreed. She said: “Oxford’s residents demand that water companies and Westminster clean up their act on water quality. It is a tragedy that no rivers in England are deemed to be in overall good health and it is unacceptable for Thames Water to continue profiting from pouring sewage into our waterways.”

A Thames Water spokesperson said previously that a £15million upgrade of Witney sewage works had started and would increase the site’s treatment capacity by 60 per cent, with completion expected to be in early next year.

They added: “As a member of the Oxford Rivers Project, who made the application for designated bathing water status at Wolvercote Mill Stream, we’ll continue to work with our partners to understand what more needs to be done to ensure consistently good water quality in the Thames and we’ve invited members of Extinction Rebellion to visit our sites and meet the teams who look after them.

“We’re also aware that last year was an unusual year for river flows across the country following the hot weather periods and drought we’ve experienced over the summer. This is why the Environment Agency’s assessment for designated bathing status looks at three years of river water quality results.”