Andy Ross [OOD & Safety Boat] Race Report: 30.07.2017. The Great Stink

Does a bear shit in the woods? [Rhetorically: Yes]. And pollute its habitat? [Biologically: No]. Does Thames Water illegally excrete billions of litres of sewage into the river Thames whenever it rains? [Deliberately: Yes].  And does it pollute the entire river ecosystem? [Unequivocally and disgustingly: Yes].

But with no such spillage in sight, nor suspiciously smelled in the nose, and on a sunny and becalmed Strand foreshore Tim (1) Young and Lev [both in Gulls] and Tim (2) Wellburn with Alex Romanenko [Ent] and Terry Atkins [in his de-spidered Solo, once he had found its mast] consulted with Andy Ross [as both OOD and Safety Boat] on whether it would even be possible to get to Hammersmith. A double D race was scheduled: [2 races: one there, one back] – with a restart line wherever the OOD decided to land the Dory. And he had with him flasks of tea and stocks of biscuits for a refreshing picnic party on the beach.

A casual drift under the railway bridge down to Number Nought was perfectly timed during the 4 & 2 minute start time to facilitate the fleet floating onward. The gentlest of SE wind coming up river then picked up and it was suddenly very lively. Tim (2) charged across the river into the path of a rowing boat and drastic evasive action meant sudden baling out. Terry surprised himself leaning out over the gunwale staring down at a vertical drop. The wind in the willows turned the long green leaves lengthwise into silver streaks, line-dancing like cheerleaders with pompoms and ribbons. The gusts banged everyone about all the way to Chiswick Bridge. And then abruptly stopped.

Lev and Tim (1) drifted round the Barnes bend and were well beyond the railway bridge before Tim (2) and Terry got to the White Hart. Terry chose the inside arch and emerged to race across the river with broad reaches and increasingly wild tacks, each more perilous than the previous one, until with insufficient water to turn on the shallow shore he tipped over. Spluttering to the surface he was confronted with two condoms hanging off his centerboard – surely not part of the safety equipment? And he was minus both his wellington boots. C-Sharp was beached and tilted to empty its contents: and several more condoms, ghostly as dead jelly fish floated out. What is the collective noun for them?  A gang-bang?

By this time there was no sign of the other three boats. But Terry had had enough and wanted to be towed back. However, the Safety Boat has a duty of care to the fleet. Thankfully the dilemma was resolved as the sun came out and the wind dropped; warming things up. Terry agreed to come on board and we began slowly towing C-Sharp – not knowing how best to prevent the boat yawing from side to side and broaching broadside on (OOD).

We soon spotted a single mast on the foreshore just beyond the RNLI pier: Tim!

We got there to discover the dreadful mess the river was in. A thick, brown-green, slimy, turdy sludge covered the foreshore – and with a foul smell in the air. Tim had capsized right beside one of the four Acton sewer storm outfalls along this stretch; which had been belching out its contents. His capsizing had been totally unobserved [or willfully ignored] by the fully geared-up crews on the two RNLI boats that were right there. As if the putrid state of the river itself wasn’t an immediately obvious health and safety peril to anyone falling in it!

Tim said Steve Newell had just been by and said that the sewage came from Mogden. But it hadn’t. It’s worse than that. And closer to home.

Thames Water says that the overflow problem is due to an overloaded Victorian sewer system designed for 2 million people, now coping with 8m – and forecasting 14m. Their proposed solution is the Thames Tideway Tunnel [TTT], which they describe as a beneficial environmental engineering project to clean up the river.  In fact, it is a gigantic financial engineering project to clean up Thames Water’s balance sheet.

Following privatization, Thames Water [TW] now has an extraordinarily complex and opaque corporate structure with at least ten tiered companies owned and controlled by investors in tax havens ranging from the Cayman Islands to Luxembourg. The company has paid over £1.1billion in dividends to its shareholders but has paid no corporation tax to the UK for the past 5 years. It has raised debts of over £5 billion through tax havens which are used to fund its operations; including the up-grading of Mogden; as required by Ofwat.

Despite these self-beneficial tax arrangements, TW is loading the entire £4.2 billion cost of construction of TTT [at 2011 prices; wait for the update] onto water consumers across the whole of the Thames valley, despite it being only an Inner London project. Additionally, TW has persuaded the government to agree to underpin the entire cost of TTT with public money! The cost recovery is guaranteed through all water bills which are due to rise by at least £25 per capita. And that does not yet including the financing costs which, alone, on a 100-year horizon, will be at least an extra £20 billion, depending on interest rates.

The whole project is totally unnecessary. Technologies for collecting, storing and managing waste water outflows have improved dramatically in recent years. Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems [SUDS] are now a requirement of all architectural design practices and in all urban planning. The use of permeable materials, rainwater harvesting, distributed storage, ecological grey water recycling and real-time computer monitoring are components of an Integrated Water Resource Management Approach – in compliance with the EU Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive, and the EU Water Framework Directive.

These technologies obviously have a cost – which TW is totally unwilling to invest in itself – claiming they are entirely a property developer’s responsibility. Its investors rely on the guaranteed income of a regulated utility, and drastic cost reductions. What TW has done instead is to criminally manipulate the monitoring and reporting of its sewage treatment works to lower its operating costs. Just as car companies rigged their exhaust test data, so TW rigged the ‘self-regulatory’ data it provided to the Environment Agency and Ofwat.

What TW did was ‘flow-clipping’. This technique by-passes inputs to the sewage effluent tanks [which have permanent EA data pollution monitors on their pipes] to send raw sewage into offline storage tanks, without any monitors on them – which it then discharged into rivers. But TW was found out.

As a result, the judge at Aylesbury Crown Court on 22 March 2017 fined TW £20m in fines and costs for the illegal discharge of over 4.2 billion litres of sewage into the river. The judge also applied a ‘proportionate multiplier’ which factored in TW’s turnover and ability to pay – with a warning that this deliberate abuse of data reporting would, if repeated, attract a very much escalated fine.

In addition, EU infraction fines for non-compliance with the EU UWWTD are currently estimated at £2.8 billion, accruing daily. A reasoned opinion from the European Commission has been sent to HM Government concerning its failure to properly transpose the EU Water Framework Directive into UK law because only 17% of UK water companies [all similarly privatized] had achieved the required monitoring status by 2015, [relying on the industry to ‘self-regulate’] when all should have done so. No wonder the government is so extremely keen to rid itself of EU ‘red tape’ – and the supervision of the European Court of Justice!

The preferred outcome for TW and TTT and their shareholders is that their dreadfully expensive and totally redundant super sewer under the river Thames, entirely paid for by the public for generations to come, continues to be tolerated as needed, based on the trust and goodwill that consumers have in TW as an environmentally branded company. All costs entirely off the books of TW; and with a guaranteed income to its shareholders! How fiendishly clever is that!

Unfortunately, the Financial Times and the ratings agencies [Moody’s, Fitch, S&P] disagree. Investigations into TW’s finances by the FT are continuing. And the attempt by TTT to launch its £4.2bn fund-raising in the City as a “Green Bond” has failed. What TW presented was blatant green-wash. At best, it will be treated as a standard civil engineering project; it’s basically and obviously only a 25km-long concrete tube. And serious questions are being asked about its technical credentials given the other solutions readily available at far less cost. TW nevertheless says it’s: ‘all going according to plan’ and test drills have been sunk. But no real work has yet been commissioned.

The unfortunate result of all this deliberate gaming of the financial and political system by TW / TTT is what SGSC was standing in and swimming in on Sunday.

Leaving Tim (1) in charge of both his own boat and C-Sharp, Terry and Andy went off in search of Tim (2) and Lev. In the distance, a blue Enterprise was seen capsizing at Corinthian’s. When the safety boat got there it was apparent it had turned over on the foreshore in the wind. Not only was it grossly besmirched with foul stains – but its helm and crew had no appetite to continue, and want a tow home.  Lev, meanwhile, was cheerfully tacking back and forth, didn’t want a tow, and was waiting for the re-start! Accordingly, the OOD blew him a start whistle.

Back with Tim, with Lev sailing on, the three boats were tied onto the new, soft and super-flexible – and thankfully long – Arthur Beale towline. But before setting off; tea was drunk and biscuits distributed to comfort the wet and weary sailors.

Lev was practically back in home waters on the mid B course by the time the safety boat drew level. Only to find out that in getting there he had capsized twice! Adding to the one that had apparently happened on the way down! To his great dismay he had lost a favourite jacket, and a signed paddle – but not his red plastic bucket baler! Lev and the safety boat with its three towed craft all crossed the finish line under railway bridge simultaneously.

The Great Stink was an event in central London in July and August 1858 during which the hot weather exacerbated the smell of untreated human waste and industrial effluent that was present on the banks of the River Thames.

The scientist Michael Faraday described the situation in a letter to The Times in July 1855: shocked at the state of the Thames, he had dropped pieces of white paper into the river to: “test the degree of opacity”. His conclusion was that: “Near the bridges the feculence rolled up in clouds so dense that they were visible at the surface, even in water of this kind. … The smell was very bad, and common to the whole of the water; it was the same as that which now comes up from the gully-holes in the streets; the whole river was for the time a real sewer.”