The discharge of sewage into our rivers and seas has at long last become a national scandal.
Increasing pressure is being put on the privatised water companies to take immediate action to reduce spillage incidents and not just complacently pay the inadequate fines for offences committed, as that is cheaper than undertaking expensive capital expenditure which would reduce their profits.
Since privatisation, the UK water companies have extracted over 72 billion pounds in value in the form of dividends and profits. Essentially these are public funds not being spent on vitally needed investment.
Southern water is owned by the notoriously rapacious Australian bank, Macquarie. They had
previously controlled Thames Water, where they extracted billions in profits leaving the water company with huge debts.
In two days alone in 2021 the Mogden sewage works on the upper Thames discharged over Two Billion litres into the river.
The Faversham works is only capable of primary sewage treatment and has seriously inadequate capacity to cope with the Town’s recent new housing developments. This results in vast quantities of partially treated sewage being regularly discharged into the creek.
But in the panel below we report on a particular local issue.
SEWAGE DISCHARGES FROM HOUSEBOATS ON FAVERSHAM CREEK
Whilst the recent focus has been on Southern Water and their Combined Sewage Overflows that discharge diluted sewage into the Creek during sever rainfall, to relieve the pressure on the sewage system, another source of sewage pollution in the Creek has been highlighted.
There are around 30 houseboats and liveaboard seaworthy vessels that are permanently moored on the upper reaches Faversham Creek.
These vessels are usually able to discharge their sewage directly into the Creek. That constitutes a significant potential source of raw pollution, probably in the region of 1200 litres every day. See Appendix B.
It is certainly not the case that these discharges are restricted to the ebb tide, that would help the sewage to go downstream into the Swale, or at least ensure that the vessels are afloat during discharge.
The common solution is to install adequate Holding Tanks that can be regularly pumped out by visiting tankers; these small tankers are used for mobile toilets and other small installations. At present there is scant evidence that this method of disposal is practised on the creek. However, there are also limited on-site toilets, public or by exclusive access to vessels available on two sites; the extent of their usage is unknown.
There are neither national legislation nor local byelaws that control this situation, apart from the Port of London Authority who introduced their Byelaw 49, to reduce sewage in the Thames.
Peel Ports, the Statutory Harbour Authority, does not have similar legislation to use in the Medway or Swale, and has no intention of pursuing the matter, stating that it is a national issue that must be legislated for by government.
It is feasible that a local Byelaw could be raised to restrict vessels from pumping sewage into the Creeks, based on the PLA Byelaw 49. A model is attached as Appendix A. That would require the support of FTC and SBC.
There is a more serious issue in the Medway at the Hoo Houseboat ‘village’ with around 100 vessels, mostly real static houseboats. The EA and the Medway Council are monitoring the situation but there is no practical progress to date.
HOME PORT CRAFT
This is a contentious issue for fully seagoing vessels, especially smaller active seagoing boats, as the lack of space onboard and installation costs of Black Tanks, will make it very difficult to enforce.
However, this is a national problem that is already being addressed in Marinas and even some permanent Houseboat communities. We cannot continue to pump raw sewage into our rivers and creeks, and we all have to take some responsibility for the problem and agree to the solutions.
It makes sense because as more vessels are permanently moored alongside quays, it is inevitable that the level of pollution will increase to unacceptable levels as it has at Hoo where it affects the rest of local river users including users of the launching slip.
Many years ago, public outcry at the stench emanating from Faversham Creek, resulted in the ban on discharging domestic sewage into the Creek, and the building a sewage works to process it. That meant that pipes had to be laid to carry it to the works.
At that time, as was normal practice, it was mixed with ground drainage water to help the flow. That is the reason behind the CSOs that are the subject of controversy now, which due to increasing rainfall, discharge more sewage [diluted] more frequently that envisaged, back into the Creek again.
MODEL BYELAW TO PREVENT DISCHARGE OF SEWAGE INTO FAVERSHAM CREEK, BASED ON PLA 39.
Guidance to Boat Owners on Compliance with Swale Borough Council [or Faversham Town Council] Byelaw XX – Prohibiting Discharge of Sewage into Faversham Creek
This [SBC or FTC] Byelaw XX comes into force on Day Month Year. The Byelaw prevents the discharge of sewage into the Creek from specified vessels, consistent with the continuing improvement of the Creek environment, particularly in conjunction with measures to be undertaken by Southern Water to stop the discharge of untreated sewage into the river, and brings the Faversham Creek into line with a number of other UK harbours and inland waterways.
For the purposes of this byelaw, sewage refers to faeces and urine plus any water associated with them.
The full text of the [SBC or FTC] Byelaw XX is reproduced below:
DISCHARGE OF SEWAGE INTO THE FAVERSHAM CREEK
XX.1 The owner of a houseboat must, from Day Month Year, ensure that no sewage is discharged into the Faversham Creek, or any tributaries to or from Faversham Creek
XX.2 In this byelaw “houseboat” means any vessel (other than a ship registered under the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 or any vessel usually used for navigation) which is used primarily as a place of habitation, or as a place for accommodating or receiving persons for the purposes of shelter, recreation, entertainment or refreshment, or as club premises or offices, while it is moored.
XX.3 This byelaw shall not apply to-
(a) a vessel which is navigated, worked or moored only occasionally in Faversham Creek; and for the purpose of this subsection, a vessel is navigated, worked or moored only occasionally in Faversham Creek if – (1) it is navigated, worked or moored within that area not more than six times in any period of 12 months; and (2) on each such occasion it is navigated, worked or moored within the Faversham Creek area for no more than 96 hours.
Note; In other words, a vessel that is not a temporary visitor, and remains in Faversham Creek for periods longer than the limits stated, has to comply with this Byelaw. The PLA also publish a larger document showing owners options for complying with PLA 49.
ESTIMATE OF SEWAGE DISCHARGES
The volume of sewage discharged is around 5 litres per flush x 4 times per day x 2 people per vessel = 40 litres per vessel, x 30 vessels = 1200 litres per day. This excludes all other discharges from kitchens and washing machines.