Thames Water’s CEO Cathryn Ross says she’d happily swim in treated sewage water - well, let’s see that happen

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Cathryn Ross said she'd happily swim where the water company had discharged "fully treated effluent” - despite confirming this water is not disinfected and contains bacteria

Thames Water’s CEO said she would happily swim in a river full of treated sewage water - despite saying previously that she accepts concerns from locals over how hygienic the water actually is.

In a committee meeting last Wednesday (13 September), Cathryn Ross said she would happily “take a dip” in a river “where we had discharged fully treated effluent”.

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But, in the same meeting, she said that fully treated effluent water still contains “some bacteria” and she “accepts” concerns of local residents that “at the moment that treatment process does not disinfect the water”.

So, would Ms Ross really go swimming in water she knows contains bacteria and is not disinfected? I highly doubt it, and if she would well… me, and I’m sure many others too, would like to see that happen.

As Ashley Smith, from environment group Windrush Against Sewage Pollution told me, there are still “very high levels of coliform bacteria as well as chemicals, hormones, and drugs as well as resistant bacteria” in treated sewage water.

Like to swim in treated sewage water? Well, let’s see it Cathryn Ross. (Photo: NationalWorld/Mark Hall/PA)Like to swim in treated sewage water? Well, let’s see it Cathryn Ross. (Photo: NationalWorld/Mark Hall/PA)
Like to swim in treated sewage water? Well, let’s see it Cathryn Ross. (Photo: NationalWorld/Mark Hall/PA) | NationalWorld/Mark Hall/PA

The fact that Ms Ross can come out and say oh yes I would swim in a river full of treated sewage water, despite knowing it is full of bacteria, and knowing full well it is a ploy to water down the awful sewage discharges that are happening, is ridiculous. 

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Her comments came as local residents in London are worried about the water company’s plan to pump the River Thames with treated wastewater from Mogden Sewage Treatment Works.

A petition was set up in January raising concerns about the impact of the scheme on fish, insects and plants and that fines imposed for breaches of regulations would not be enough to protect the river.

The public are not going to think swimming in treated sewage water is okay just because the boss of a water company, which is failing on so many levels, said she would.

And to add to this, in the meeting Ms Ross confirmed that customers will be seeing their bills rise to pay for things like climate adaptation and its “ageing asset base”. 

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She said customers paying is unfortunately the “only source of funding” - but in the same breath added that the water company knows it “cannot ask customers to pay a pound more than they really need to pay to solve the problem”.

The Financial Times reported in May that Thames Water paid £37m of “internal dividends” to its parent company in the year to 31 March 2022 - an increase from £33mn in the previous 12 months, despite announcing that  “external shareholders” had not received dividends for five years.  

So Thames Water knows it is not right to be asking customers to pay more, and knows millions has gone to shareholders at the expense of poor pipes, an ageing system, and broken monitors. 

A recent BBC investigation found that Thames Water dry-spilled for 1,253 hours in 2022 at 49 overflow sites - and it is likely that more spills would have occurred last year as the water company only monitors 62% of its overflow points.

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Thames Water has been very shabby, and its CEO offering whimsical lines about what she would do are quite frankly laughable - especially when we really know she would do the opposite.

Ms Ross, who started her role as CEO in June, is not helping the overall look of the water company and fails to give campaigners who are wanting an end to pollution in UK rivers any faith in her leadership, with off the cuff comments that of course she would swim in a river full of bacteria-infected treated sewage water.

No one wants to swim in water that is contaminated with bacteria - and infected water should not be going into our rivers full stop.

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