Rowers criticise Thames sewage after Boat Race

2 weeks ago 24

The men's boat raceImage source, Getty Images

By Andre Rhoden-Paul

BBC News

University of Oxford rowers have criticised sewage levels in the Thames after losing the Boat Race to Cambridge.

High levels of E. coli have been found in the river where universities race every year.

Thames Water has said improving river health was a "key focus" for the company.

On Wednesday Environment Agency figures revealed raw sewage spills doubled last year in England to 3.6 million of hours spills compared to 1.75 million hours in 2022.

Within the spills are are human waste, wet wipes and sanitary products which can pose a serious risk to swimmers.

Boat race Crews had been given safety advice to avoid swallowing water splashed up from the Thames.

Cambridge, who won both male and female races, was also warned against throwing the cox into the water as is tradition.

Speaking to BBC Sport, Mr Jenkins said: "This morning I was throwing up and I wasn't sure I was going to be able to race...

"It would be a lot nicer if there wasn't as much poo in the water.

"It's not to take away from Cambridge, as we may not have beaten them even if we were all on top form."

A second member of squad said three people had to miss training sessions due to stomach bugs.

Coxswain Will Denegri said: "Whether that's related to E.coli in the river I don't know, but it's certainly not helped our campaign...

"It's not an excuse, but it definitely hasn't helped our preparation."

Testing by campaign body River Action and Fulham Reach Boat Club earlier this month detected high levels of E. coli which can cause serious infections.

River Action said the testing locations in its research suggested the source of pollution was from Thames Water discharging sewage directly into the river and its tributaries.

The UK has combined sewage systems which mean rain and sewage share the same pipes, so if there is too much rain sewage treatment works can be overwhelmed. Sewage is spilled into waterways to prevent the system backing up.

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption,

This year Cambridge women were warned not to throw their coxswain into the river

Sewage spilling can be legal but environmentalists say it should only happen in exceptional weather.

Industry body Water UK cited record levels of rainfall but called the situation "unacceptable".

The Environment Agency has been contacted for comment. It previously noted heavy rainfall does not affect water companies' responsibility to manage storm overflows in line with legal requirements.

In a statement issued before the race, Thames Water said: "We have experienced higher than average long-term rainfall across London and the Thames Valley with groundwater levels exceptionally high for the time of the year.

"The overflows are designed to operate automatically when the sewer network is about to be overwhelmed, which then releases diluted wastewater into rivers, rather than letting it back up into people's homes.

"We are working hard to make these discharges unnecessary and have published plans to upgrade over 250 of our sites."

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