Press release: is cooling off in the Cam a good idea?

18 July 2022

The Cambridge Green Party is asking the City Council to organise an urgent public meeting, in partnership with South Cambridgeshire District Council, with the Chief Executive of Anglian Water and senior representatives from the Environment Agency and Natural England, in order to address the scandal of sewage pollution in the River Cam. A new report by the Environment Agency reveals that water companies are ignoring their legal responsibilities: Anglian Water was responsible for nearly a quarter of all serious pollution incidents in England in 2021.

Dr Hannah Copley, Green Councillor for Abbey Ward, will put the motion to the Full Council Meeting on 21 July. Councillor Copley says: “We must hold Anglian Water to account. Releasing sewage into rivers and streams is a health hazard; it no longer occurs only in emergencies such as severe storms, but is a regular occurrence. Cambridge has grown rapidly in recent years, at the same time as the impacts of climate breakdown have become apparent. Anglian Water itself notes that our climate is changing, making extreme weather more commonplace. The company has admitted that their storm overflows are ‘no longer fit for purpose’.”

Many Cambridge residents are taking to the river in the hot weather, but will be asking themselves: is this safe? Stephen Tompkins, Cam Valley Forum Chair, says: “Sometimes it’s safe to swim, sometimes it’s not, and you can’t tell by looking. The water may contain faecal pathogens, which can affect us. There are also high levels of nitrate and phosphate and low levels of dissolved oxygen which have a big negative impact on the biodiversity of the Cam and its associated chalk streams.”

The Environment Agency no longer provides the relevant information but Cam Valley Forum volunteers are now doing extensive water testing. CVF results indicate that the smaller water treatment works upstream are a major source of the problem, particularly during extreme rainfall events. However, at no point has Anglian Water a) talked about investing in these plants or (b) called for limits on new house building, despite the duties placed on water companies by the Environment Act 2021. The proposed move of the Cambridge Sewage Works, which has adequate capacity and was recently updated, will not address this problem.

Anglian Water’s draft Drainage and Wastewater Management Plan is out for consultation but we need action now. The failure of the water industry to address sewage pollution has led to a national outcry about the dreadful state of Britain’s rivers. The River Cam is a vital resource for those living in the City and beyond – we all have a right to enjoy its water without anxiety.

Image: Councillor Copley stands by the River Cam (photo credit: Terry Macalister)

Councillor Copley by the River Cam

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