Any Sewer is a Sewer –isn’t it?
If you were to ask the average man on the street what happened to the water that left his house via the myriad of drain pipes, overflows, soil stacks, gutters, sewer pipes etc would he really know what happened to it?
Do consumers actually know or understand that there are different sewers running under their feet? In an effort to control the spiralling cost of sewage plant treatment, separate storm water and foul sewers solve a huge problem for the industry by reducing the volume of water requiring treatment. However the separation also causes a huge headache for the water companies and regulators as by specifying one as “clean” and one as foul the onus is then on them to ensure that they are just that.
In theory of course it should not be a problem, every good plumber and house builder knows the difference between the two and what services from the property should be connected to which sewer. However it is not only the “good” builders and plumbers who make connections into the sewer systems. Consumers unwittingly make misconnections by simply pushing the drain hose from the new washing machine or dishwasher into the nearest drain access – and why should we expect them to know any differently?
The odd domestic washing machine is but the tip of the iceberg, numerous properties have had whole extensions plumbed into the wrong sewers, baths, showers, sinks, washing machines, toilets –the works. Again if this was the odd one or two we wouldn’t all be having a debate about how to tackle the problem, but it isn’t one or two its hundreds of thousands.
'Of course one misconnection doesn't do all this, but it is death by a thousand cuts. It is a bit like having a sewage works that doesn't work. I think it is growing as a lot of people are now doing DIY and don't know the difference between the pipe leading to the sewer and to surface water.' (Source: Mark Lloyd Chief Exec Angling Trust)
Thames Water alone believes that in its region – serving 14 million customers in London and the Thames Valley – one in every 10 homes now have misconnected drains.
The company says that since 2010 it has identified and put right misconnections at 3,170 properties, but that around 16 Olympic swimming pools' worth of foul waste is still entering watercourses every day. (Source: The Observer 2nd Dec 2012)
The impact of misconnections is far reaching not only in terms of the impact on the environment and water quality but also the impact on the water companies and regulators who have to wage a constant battle against a problem which seems to be impossible to control. Education programmes and initiatives are beginning to have some effect but sewerage suffers from being a hidden problem, it’s never seen by the householder, they have no concept of the problems which plumbing mishaps can cause.
However the ability of the public to take on board environmental issues should not be underestimated. You have only to look at the near fanatical zeal with which the majority of householders now recycle everything in sight to realise that education and legislation can really work.
Pollution of our watercourses, particularly from urban derived sources is a huge problem and on a scale that would surprise the majority of the public.