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Sewage Pollution and Care for Our Common Home

I would like to endorse recent items in The Bridge magazine concerning Thames Water’s illegal practice of discharging untreated sewage into the River Windrush. We are very fortunate to have a dedicated local action group and campaign in Windrush Against Sewage Pollution (WASP), who have been exposing the reckless neglect of Thames Water in allowing crude sewage to be pumped into the Windrush.

As you reported in the September edition of The Bridge, WASP needs to raise £30,000 for the purchase of professional equipment to trace and test the release of sewage from storm drains into the Windrush. This is a responsibility that neither Thames Water (who are expected to ‘self-report’ pollution incidents) nor the Environment Agency (who are supposed to regulate and monitor the water utilities) seem able to carry out in an adequate, unbiased manner that satisfies legal requirements. It was heartening to read that the WASP Charitable Trust are being offered real support by Councillor Nick Field-Johnson of Oxfordshire County Council in its Save Our Windrush - Appeal For Funding. Let’s hope it sets the ball rolling.

Following the £20.3 million fine given to Thames Water in March 2017 for massive sewage pollution offences, Rose O’Neill, the water policy manager for the World Wide Fund for Nature-UK (WWF), commented that the water companies, “…simply can’t continue treating our rivers as their dumping ground.” In the foreword to their November 2017 report, ‘Flushed Away: How Sewage is still Polluting Rivers,’ the WWF chief executive, Tania Steele, wrote: “...we believe there needs to be culture change within the water companies and the wider public to understand that the problem can’t simply be flushed away” (italics added).

This failure by Thames Water and the other water utilities to keep our rivers clean and free from pollution stems from a misunderstanding in our culture about our relationship with the natural world: we consider ourselves, homo sapiens, as ‘a species apart’ with an almost divine right to have ‘dominion’ over the Earth and its resources. It is considered ‘just common sense’ to view humankind as exceptional in the natural order of things with the right to take what we want or need from the Earth without thought or regard for the consequences. It is this exploitative attitude towards nature that has led to it becoming our “dumping ground.”

By contrast, a new yet also ancient reciprocal attitude towards the Earth has begun to re-emerge in the 21st century. In the recent words of Sir David Attenborough: “We are part of the natural world. We depend upon the natural world for every breath of air that we take and every mouthful of food we eat. If we damage the natural world, we damage ourselves.” This more symbiotic relationship to the Earth with the sense of belonging to the natural world is the vital lesson that needs to be learnt, not only by the water utilities but by society as a whole. The belief in human dominion over the Earth, and our exploitation of it, can no longer be sustained. It has reached breaking point as the Windrush itself is telling us through sight and smell.

With deeper acknowledgement of our belonging to the natural world comes a renewed sense of kinship with all forms of life. This kinship was embodied in the life of St Francis of Assisi, echoed by the current Pope in his 2015 ground-breaking encyclical letter, Laudato Si’: On Care for our Common Home. In this extraordinary document, the Pope points out that “a certain way of understanding human life has gone awry, to the serious detriment of the world around us.” Describing the life of St Francis as a model for all of us - especially his openness to awe and wonder - Pope Francis insists:

“If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of St Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.”

The lesson for water utilities like Thames Water - and perhaps for most of us - is to rediscover that sense of kinship and realise that water is a sacred gift of the Earth that enables us to live and flourish on this beautiful planet. The Windrush is a life-force of nature to be respected, protected and cherished as such. WASP are at the cutting edge of actively “loving our back yard” with the goal of returning the Windrush to its pristine pollution-free state, “safe for all” to bathe in.

Barry Cottrell

Donations can be sent to Windrush Against Sewage Pollution (WASP)

Lloyds Bank - Sort Code 30 90 89 Account 37881360

Reference – Windrush testing

More information is on the WASP website: https://www.windrushwasp.org - Ed


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