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London, United Kingdom
I am an engineering academic at University College London where I work on the sustainability of urban water systems. I am interested in the role of engineers and technology in sustainable cities.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Sewers, the EU, Jo Cox and me

Last night in London we had a torrential downpour. This means the sewers have overflowed into the Thames. It's a fairly warm day so dissolved oxygen will be low. This is just about the worst case scenario for the health of our magnificent river.

This morning I voted to remain in the EU. I was almost in tears at the enormity of the decision.

Now I am in a French cafe drinking coffee on my way to a walk along the route of the historic Fleet River. The Fleet was turned into a sewer 150 years ago. One of those sewers that overflowed last night. The sick old Fleet, breaking through to the Thames again.

This afternoon I am going to the Houses of Parliament for drinks with the Thames Estuary Partnership. People who care about the river and know about sewers and dissolved oxygen. They also know that the sewer overflows mean we are in breach of the EU Urban Wastewater Directive, which has been adopted by UK Parliament through various water acts in the last decade. Legal action and threat of fines is one of the key drivers for the London solving the sewer problem. Construction will soon start on the Tideway tunnel, which will stop sewage overflowing into the Thames, thanks in part to our membership of the EU.

The event in Westminster was to be hosted by Jo Cox, who lived in a boat on the river. She's dead now. She was killed for her politics, including her campaigning to remain in the EU. We'll remember her as we share a drink by the Thames.

And it is also National Women in Engineering Day.

I feel like I am living a badly plotted political short story.


  1. RIP Jo Cox and thanks for your words of wisdom again. I love your blog Sarah!

  2. This sounds like a horrible problem that would smell all of the time. It's not sanitary and inexcusable for a city to allow such unhealthy conditions. Consider going to the board of health to file a complaint about the sewer system to see what can be done as you don't want to continue dealing with this issue.