The South East Rivers Trust are working closely with the Environment Agency to engage local communities with their river by monitoring urban pollution. Depending on circumstances, the Environment Agency are not always able to attend lower impact pollution incidents. Through this pollution assessment scheme, there is now a trained volunteer task force that can provide a first line of response to assess the situation and report back to the EA. The information gathered by the volunteers is used to update the EA’s incident management system and enhance understanding of these rivers, including details of river pollution trends, and gaining knowledge of where habitat improvements are needed.
An expansion of the project has been looking into the effect of misconnections on water quality across the three rivers. Misconnections are a significant problem within the Thames catchment, with an estimated 300,000 properties discharging untreated sewage into rivers. Trained volunteers have adopted suspected polluting outfalls and undertaken weekly surveys for signs of chronic pollution such as the presence of sewage fungus. These reports and photographs enable the EA and Thames Water to trace misconnections and begin taking action to rectify the issue.
The project was first piloted on the River Wandle where the effectiveness of involving the local community was clearly demonstrated. Through the pilot a number of polluted outfalls were identified and the associated misconnections have now been fixed, showcasing the power of partnership working. After the successful pilot on the River Wandle with over 50 volunteers trained, the scheme is now running on the Hogsmill and Beverley Brook with a further 30 volunteers joining the team. The project has enabled the South East Rivers Trust to raise awareness on the issues surrounding pollution while encouraging local community stewardship for the river.