Update on River Crane Sewage Spill

It might not be making many headlines anymore but the ramifications of last October’s sewage spill into the River Crane are still being felt. In this guest post, twickerati reader and Twickenham resident Brian North provides a reminder of what happened and an update on the situation.

In October 2011, Thames Water had a bit of an accident. Not a leaky water main or a collapsed manhole cover but a full scale environmental catastrophe.

The River Crane, its rivers and tributaries and hotels and properties around Heathrow airport were flooded with thousands of gallons of raw sewage. The Crane Valley, an area of special environmental interest, was devastated. Everything in the rivers and tributaries leading all the way from Heathrow to the Thames was affected. Crustaceans, invertebrates and thousands of fish were killed. Bird life abandoned a thriving eco-system – now wiped out and reduced to a stinking, flowing slurry in less than 48 hours…

It was caused by simple mechanical failure. Maintenance on a sewer in the early hours of Sunday 30th October 2011 went terribly wrong. A huge barrier had been closed to allow Thames Water’s teams into the tunnels to (ironically) inspect conditions in the sewer. When they had finished and tried to reopen the barrier they couldn’t. A critical component had failed and there was no backup. Despite frantic efforts a three tonne metal dam was stuck and right behind it tens of thousands of gallons of sewage was rising. There was no way of opening the barrier despite frantic efforts to try to reduce the scale of the impending disaster. As Heathrow and West London awoke on that Sunday morning thousands of showers were taken, baths emptied and toilets flushed and it was either flood Heathrow completely with stinking raw sewage or let it overflow directly into the River Crane. The rest is history.

On Wednesday 11th July 2012 a public meeting was organised by FORCE – Friends of the River Crane Environment – and attended by representatives of Thames Water. It was an opportunity for members of the public to ask questions about what happened and why it happened. The mood of the meeting was tense and people were genuinely upset, angry and vocal. Thames Water’s representatives seemed remorseful at the damage their company had caused and answered questions as best they could. The Environment Agency is prosecuting Thames Water who have admitted liability and are likely to be fined — although it is important to state that no date for the court case has been set. Thames Water have offered to help put right the damage by way of a donation of £400k over five years. They also pledged to learn from this tragic mistake and try to make sure it doesn’t happen again — either in the Crane Valley or elsewhere.

The trouble is that environmental catastrophes have happened before on Thames Water’s watch. Who is to know if it won’t happen again? Their reaction could be construed as a classic case of the door being bolted after the horse has fled. Although of course in this case the door couldn’t be unbolted, which is fairly ironic. Although not very funny.

One last point to note. This awful ‘summer’ weather we are having is the best possible short term recovery aid for the river. Flushing it through and filling it with clean fresh water will help to start the long slow recovery process. Something to smile about while hiding under your umbrellas? Maybe.

Brian North is a Twickenham resident and member of Force.

River Crane

* Brian North on Twitter
* FORCE (Friends of the River Crane Environment)
* Thames Water


Filed under Local Issues & News

9 responses to “Update on River Crane Sewage Spill

  1. martin royffe

    hi went fishing in the crane thurs 27th june 2013 didnt know about the spilled but it was nice to catch a lot of small fish from by the powder mill also saw the kingfisher ,

  2. Informer

    Yes, the recent heavy rainfalls have been HUGE blessings in disguise !

    Increased flow rates have brought large numbers of small fry from way upriver above the source of pollution.

  3. David

    After the recent heavy rains the water is looking clear and the banks are knee deep in weeds – all good. Saw the blue flash of a Kingfisher last week near where Lincoln Avenue backs onto the Crane so there must be something for him to eat! We are also now getting the dawn and dusk frog chorus. We are hoping to see small fish soon. What will Thames Water spend £400k on? We now have plenty of benches..

  4. Walkinthepark

    I may only be “expert” by virtue of having so many happy pond dipping outings with my children on the island but I know that certain species of fish are more susceptible than others to the effects of pollution and some species had only just reappeared after previous pollution incidents. In fact it is suspected that Thames have been resonsible for many more incidents than they have ever owned up to, and one of the clues has been the disappearance of certain species of fish. There is a full update on nature sightings on FORCES website http://www.force.org.uk/

    • bobchewie

      It comes to something when thames water turn off your supply without telling you which has happened to me, but polluting a river is disgusting

  5. bobchewie

    The river crane is a beautiful area that should not be polluted

    • jimbo

      The stretch of the Crane that I “patrol” (I do a litter pick at irregular intervals) does not in fact look any different from usual. The vegetation is just as lush, there has never been an unpleasant smell and wildlife is still there. Moorhens have raised chicks, there are damselflies and butterflies, birds singing in the trees and weed growing in the water. That is not to say of course that all is now well, but at least superficially there is little macroscopic evidence of an ecological disaster (except a lack of fishermen, that is a blessing in a way, as they tend to leave litter).

      I would be very interested to hear others’ experience

    • George

      Herons used to be a regular sight. I’ve not seen any for months. We could do with some bird & fish experts to comment on the legacy of this spill.

    • Anonymous

      My house backs onto the Crane and being a keen fisherman it was ideal for a couple of hours after work. The river used to support some good sized chub which could been spotted easily by the trained eye. Sadly I have not seen any fish since the incident and don’t forsee fishing there for a few years yet. The river may look the same on the surface …