Swimming the Thames: David Walliams vs. 500,000m3 of raw sewage

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Yesterday evening, comedian David Walliams completed an epic eight-day, 140-mile swim down the River Thames in aid of the 2011 Sport Relief Big Splash Challenge.

If swimming a colossal 140 miles isn’t quite enough, Walliams had to contend with the sewage ridden Thames. On Sunday, Thames Water advised the Little Britain star’s team against allowing Walliams to swim into the centre of London. The reason? Approximately 500,000m3 of raw sewage had been flushed into the river via combined sewer overflows since Monday. Thames Water sustainability director, Richard Aylard, said: “We’re not public health experts but I wouldn’t recommend swimming in it.”

David Walliams swimming the Thames (Flickr:FlickrDelusions)

Each year, about 32,000,000,000m3 of raw sewage overflows into the river Thames. Thames Water plans to invest £4.9 billion to upgrade London’s dated sewage systems from 2010 to 2015. Completed and planned improvements include:

  • Opening of The Thames Gateway Water Treatment Works in June 2010, with the UK’s first-ever desalination plant. Water is extracted from the tidal River Thames, and the works has the capacity to provide water for up to 400,000 households.
  • £140 million upgrades to the Mogden Sewage Treatment Works, extending sewage treatment capacity by 50% and reducing the amount of storm sewage that overflows into the Thames during periods of heavy rain.
  • An investment of £346 million to tackle sewer flooding, which will become increasingly worse due to climate change.
  • The replacement of over 1,300 miles of London’s oldest Victorian water mains, to  improve supplies for London’s growing population.

The London Tideways Improvement scheme in particular will help prevent sewage overflow and improve overall water quality. It will include upgrades to all five major sewage treatment works in London, as well as the construction of the Lee Tunnel (a new 4-mile sewer) and the proposed Thames Tunnel (a 20-mile tunnel that will help prevent sewage overflow).

For the time being though, a big well done to David Walliams, who can now proudly say that he raised over £1 million swimming through raw sewage. Lovely! 8HDYXV72C2B9

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