Southern Water is working to reduce ‘storm’ discharges to the Thanet coastline – but campaigners say more action is needed – The Isle Of Thanet News
A massive overhaul of amenities and projects to reduce the amount of rainwater runoff entering the sewage system will help reduce sewage discharges on the Thanet coastline, according to Southern Water.
The company outlined the work in progress as public demand for the end of storm releases continues.
Southern Water says some £11.7million has been spent on upgrades at Margate, Broadstairs and Weatherlees Hill stations, including upgrades to pumps, screens, tanks and control systems, and that a further £6.6 million will be invested in the Margate and Broadstairs sites by 2025.
Along with the upgrade work, projects are being overseen by the new Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) Task Force.
This includes finding solutions to prevent the system from being overwhelmed when runoff and sewage from homes and businesses enter the sewers.
Downpours cause rainwater to enter the sewer system in addition to sewage from homes and businesses. If it arrives too quickly at the pumping station to be treated, it is stored in an 8000 m3 tank, with backup capacity in another 4000 m3 tank.
The process involves the screening of wastewater and the disposal of gravel and items like sanitary napkins and other non-biological materials. It then travels 11km to Weatherlees Wastewater Treatment Plant where it undergoes UV disinfection, settling and aeration before returning to Margate station and being discharged via the waste pipe into 1 km long sea.
But when there are severe storms, the reservoirs can fill up in as little as 15 minutes. When this happens, the filtered wastewater is discharged into the sea.
In 2012, pump station failures during heavy rain led to pollution events, the closure of Thanet beaches for a period of nine days and a follow-up hand wash costing £400,000.
Southern Water was fined £2 million in December 2016 in relation to this incident and was also fined £200,000 in 2013 for breaching an environmental permit in 2011. As a result, and in order To reduce the risk of future incidents, the review took place.
Last year Southern Water was fined a record £90m for 51 charges of sewage pollution which took place between 2010 and 2015. There have also been incidents of storm discharge the last year which resulted in the majority of Thanet beaches being closed for several days in June and October and sparking a number of public protests and inquiries by the Environment Agency.
The water company says storm overflows are necessary if the tanks are filling, otherwise sewage would flow back into residents’ properties due to the design of the Victorian sewer system.
In 2019-20, there were 434 pollutant releases by Southern Water. The company says it aims to reduce that number to 80 by 2025 and zero by 2040. To do this, it is developing drainage and remediation plans for the area.
Project manager Jonathan Yates, from Margate, is in charge of delivering a series of projects in Thanet and North Kent, while his colleague Dr Nick Mills is in charge of the CSO task force which is currently undertaking projects in Margate, Deal and Swalecliffe under a £1.5 contract. billion program.
Mr Yates says the discharges are ‘heavily diluted’ and never ‘raw sewage’. He added: “The last two rounds of investment have accounted for £10m of site work. It’s not just about doing what we have to do, but about doing what we have to do.
“Rather than just extending the life of the mechanical assets, we invested in replacing the entire pumping system. We have increased the workforce to 24 hours a day and increased training.
One of the goals is to separate rainwater from the sewer system by using natural solutions such as ponds and wetlands, sumps and rain gardens, and reducing the amount of rainwater that flows from roads and roofs entering the sewer system.
Dr Mills says that apart from pumping stations, a combination of factors can contribute to overwhelm the Victorian sewage system, including population growth, the increase in tarmacked areas which take away the natural absorption effected by spaces greens and climate change causing “summer rain bombs”.
He also said that the objective of the CSO working group was to achieve the goal of zero pollution.
Natural solutions include rain gardens, creating tree pits, and even realigning road gullies. This means working with Kent County Council, Thanet Council and other partners.
Tree pits have been created at George V Park in Margate as part of a project to store surface water from surrounding roads.
Works by Kent County Council last year mean water is stored and filtered slowly through the plantation to remove any pollutants and help it flow through the soil.
Prior to the upgrade, the water would have flowed into the combined sewer system, which could be overwhelmed by heavy rains and exacerbate local flooding.
Now 761 m3 of surface water can be stored naturally in ponds and swales and, in partnership with Isle of Thanet Tree and Woodland Initiative, 42 additional trees have been planted in the park.
Over 30 trees have been planted along two roads, as part of the EU-funded Interreg 2 Seas Cool Towns project. Eleven of them are tree pits that help manage surface water by collecting and infiltrating water into the ground.
Southern Water says customers can also help by avoiding cluttering the system with products like sanitary napkins or grease from cooking and investing in products like smart water butts.
But many in the Thanet community want to see more commitment to stopping the storm releases that are having such an impact on the island’s beaches, tourism and businesses and they want a promised public meeting to finally take place.
Cllr Rob Yates says the goal should be zero discharge and water infrastructure should be publicly managed.
He said: “It is clear from the number of CSO discharges, beach closures and exceeding their pumping speeds that they ignored Thanet.
“It is only because of public anger and media pressure that they are announcing additional funds. It’s time to stop having a monopolistic company running our water supply and let’s get serious about having a public, fit-for-purpose water system where the goal is zero wastewater discharge instead than simply reducing them by 80%.
Ramsgate County Councilor Karen Constantine said Southern Water needed to speak to the public and hold the public meeting promised for January.
She and members of the Save Our Seas group, made up of Ramsgate residents and sea swimmers, distributed leaflets around the town to find out people’s views on sewage discharge and increase demand for the meeting.
She said: “While I accept that Covid has inevitably delayed Southern Water’s response to our repeated calls for a public meeting in Ramsgate, I believe now is the time for clarity and a clear plan.
“I canceled the public meeting I had called for December 3, after being reassured by Southern Water that a larger public meeting would be announced. That did not happen.
“I believe the mood towards Southern Water is concerning and most residents share this view. Indeed, we spent yesterday afternoon handing out flyers downtown and most people are in agreement that serious questions need to be answered and Southern Water needs to outline the actions they plan to take.
“We remain disappointed with Southern Water, not only have they failed to identify a date for a Ramsgate meeting, they have failed to support our calls for independent testing of sea and river water, and they also didn’t invite us to meet the CEO as we requested. .
“A group of Save Our Seas activists, myself and other councilors will be visiting the Weatherlees sewage treatment works this week, and this will give us the opportunity to ask questions and urge them to respond. to our requests.
“Residents of Royal Road and Spencer Square remain concerned about sewage odors emanating from the fetid reservoir below the tennis courts – despite this having been subject to several weeks of works and road closures. It looks like it didn’t work.
“Residents of Ramsgate urgently want a public meeting at a Ramsgate location to raise their concerns, they do not want and will not tolerate a greenwash.”
Ian McAulay, CEO of Southern Water, said: “There is a growing call to take action to reduce the frequency and impact of storm surges. This is a task of magnitude and complexity that requires multisectoral collaboration and policy articulation to achieve it, which of course seems difficult today.
“However, just 20 years ago, the quality of our coastal waters was expected to improve dramatically. Today, reflecting significant investment driven by a targeted policy, our 83 regional bathing waters all meet strict European standards and 78 in total are classified as excellent or good.
“Delivering a similar transformation in storm discharge reduction is the next logical step and we believe it can be achieved. We will play our part in leading and driving the necessary collaboration and investment.
Find the SOS Ramsgate group on facebook by clicking here