Skimmer vessels smooth the way for the Boat Race

Apr 23, 2008

One year since the British government approved plans for a new super-sewer - the Thames Tideway Tunnel - to prevent sewage overflowing into the River Thames, Thames Water’s skimmer vessels – deployed as an interim measure to improve the quality of the river – have been hard at work sifting out litter and sewage-derived debris.

The vessels, which have collected over 40 cubic metres of litter from the River Thames since September 2007, have greatly contributed to improving its environmental and aesthetic quality, ensuring it is fit for river users, and for this year’s Oxford and Cambridge boat race crews.

Peter Glenister, Thames Water’s Operations Manager, said: “Sewage and litter in the Thames is particularly unpleasant for river users, impacting on their enjoyment of the river. To date, the skimmer vessels have been a real success story, enabling us to collect large volumes of litter, which overflows from the sewers during periods of heavy rainfall.

“As well as collecting sewer waste, the vessels also collect rubbish from the river. We are often surprised by some of the more unusual items that we commonly pick up, including coconuts, Christmas trees and thousands of red elastic bands.”

Last month, Thames Water appointed CH2M Hill as Programme Manager for the Thames Tideway Tunnel scheme. The project will involve the construction of two tunnels, including London’s deepest ever tunnel – the Thames Tunnel. At up to 80m beneath the River Thames it will span 32 kilometres from Hammersmith in West London, to Beckton, in East London. The tunnel will capture and transfer sewer discharges for treatment, which would otherwise enter the River Thames due to the sewers’ original design.

London has a combined sewerage system, built during the Victorian era to carry both rainfall and sewage. Overflow points were constructed along the river banks to prevent flooding during heavy rainfall by directing sewage into the River Thames and its tributaries.

The scheme was approved by the British government in March 2007. Construction of the smaller Lee Tunnel, which will span 7 kilometres from Abbey Mills in Stratford, to Beckton, will capture half of all Thames’ Tideway discharges from a single overflow point at Abbey Mills pumping station. Work is expected to start in 2009, once the relevant regulatory and planning approvals have been obtained, with completion in 2014. Construction of the Thames Tunnel, which will prevent discharges from 35 overflow points along the Thames Tideway, is not expected to start until 2012 with completion in 2020.

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