Open water swimmers and councillors are asking Thames Water to come clean about releasing sewage in the river Thames.

In 2019 there were 83 discharges of sewage in Oxford according to Thames Water and open water swimmers, boat owners and walkers do not think this figure is acceptable.

Overflows are designed to be used when the sewer network is overwhelmed, for example by extreme weather, and release diluted wastewater into rivers rather than letting it back up into people’s homes.

Jo Robb is a Green Party councillor for South Oxfordshire and when she was given the title of Thames Champion last year she immediately started liaising with Thames Water and the environment agency asking them provide the public with real time information on sewage overflows.

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Speaking about Thames water Ms Robb said: “They have data monitors installed on almost all of their sewage outfalls along the 40 mile stretch of the river Thames in South Oxfordshire. They have the capacity to release this information next week if they wanted to.

“I am pleased they have decided to release this information at six sites in and around Oxford city as part of the council's application for bathing quality water, but they have not committed to releasing public real-time information about sewage overflows anywhere else.”

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Ms Robb is a keen swimmer and regularly swims in the Thames, but she is questioning just how safe it is. She has received complaints from people about sewage in several areas of the Thames in South Oxfordshire including reports of foul smells and sewage foam in Sandford-on-Thames.

Drone footage shows sewage being released into the Thames at Sandford.

Charlie Wilson lives in Sandford, he is a triathlete and an open water swimmer and now he is working with Sandford Parish Council to tackle the problem of sewage in the Thames.

Mr Wilson would also like to see public alerts of where and when sewage will be released so swimmers and families know when to avoid the river. He said: “I understand that in exceptional circumstances maybe it would need to overflow, but the fact that it is happening more than once a week that is not exceptional circumstances.”

He added:“There are safe places to swim, but the Thames is not a safe place to swim really given this is going on.”

Councillor Robb and Mr Wilson fear the sewage system is underfunded and new developments and population growth will only exacerbate the problem.

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Thames Water said: “It’s our view that discharges of untreated sewage are simply unacceptable, even when they are legally permitted, and we’ll work with the government, Ofwat and the Environment Agency to accelerate work to stop them being necessary. We have a long way to go – and we certainly can’t do it on our own – but the ambition is clear.

“Our aim will always be to try and do the right thing for our rivers and for the communities who love and value them. We’re proud of our important role as one of the custodians of these incredible environments and are committed to working tirelessly to protect and enhance them.”

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