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How To Solve London’s Drainage Problems?

The problems facing London’s drainage system, what has been done and what is scheduled to help address them. Regular drains maintenance and careful use.

The capital’s drain network is stretched to the limit and needs improving

London’s drainage infrastructure is, to put it bluntly, stretched to capacity. Major projects such as the Thames Tideway Tunnel are in progress to follow up other actions such as the upgrading of the capital’s sewage treatment plants to help the system meet present and future needs. In the meantime, drainage companies are working flat out to keep existing drains maintained and much thought is being given to how to develop environmentally friendly drainage solutions.

The basic drainage problem

The ingenious London sewerage system, designed and built by civil engineer Joseph Bazelgette in the nineteenth century, is finding it difficult to meet the demands of the capital in the twenty-first century.

It’s not that they’re crumbling – indeed, they’re in extremely good condition. It’s more that they’re not only having to serve the needs of more than twice the number of people they were originally designed for, and deal with the consequences of more development in and around the London area and the increase in run-off water from hard surfaces.

Joseph Bazelgette had the foresight to design the original sewers to cope with twice the capital’s then population or around two million, but nowadays the population is over eight million and expected to rise as more housing is built.

The water run off problem

With increased population of course comes increased building, and with it more hard surfaces such as roads, paths and hard standing areas and housing. This means less absorbent ground for rainwater to naturally disappear into; instead it runs off the hard surfaces into the drainage system at a fast rate causing the sewers to overload.

The net result is sometimes flooding after periods of heavy rain and, because of the way the sewers handle overflow water, sewage mixing with water in the River Thames. As a result, the river returns to being an open sewer – effectively what it was before Bazelgette’s amazing engineering feat was completed.

The solution

The Lee Tunnel – part of the Thames Tideway Scheme – was opened in early 2016. This structure will connect with the 16 mile Thames Tideway Tunnel when it’s completed to transport water caught by overflow during periods of heavy rain to the major sewage works in Beckton.

At present , this overflow water is discharged into the Thames so the new multi billion Thames Tideway project will help keep the river clean and prevent flood risks.

Along with extra demands on the capital’s sewers is the climate change aspect; the UK tends to experience more rain in concentrated heavy bursts, so causing more overflow problems as the drains struggle to cope with sudden influx of water.

Other measures

There have been various incidences of areas of London being flooded due to drains unable to cope with heavy rain over shorter periods, so local authorities have – in certain cases – arranged for drain maintenance companies to clear the drains regularly to ensure they’re in the best state possible to cope with heavy demands.

Regular maintenance ever more important

In the light of increasing demands on drains, regular maintenance is becoming more important to ensure they stand as much chance as possible of handling extra use. Regular descaling and flushing is required, and it’s important for people to be made aware of the pitfalls of abusing the drainage system, such as throwing the wrong things down the plughole.

A spokesman for Thames Water, who administer the sewers in the capital, urges people to “bin it, don’t block it” when it comes to disposing of matter and materials inappropriate to be thrown into the drainage system.

Abuse by the public

Various incidences of drainage companies having to clear fatbergs – huge masses of fat-related obstructions – have appeared in the national press in recent times.

These are caused by the careless disposal of refuse such as baby wipes, cooking fat and other household waste and have become a curse in Britain’s sewers in recent years. They obviously hinder the effective functioning of a drain – indeed, they frequently block them severely and require extensive work to remove them.

Improvements are underway, and in some cases complete, but regular maintenance and careful use is increasingly needed to help the capital’s drains cope.


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