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Mayor of London opens Lee Tunnel

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has officially opened the Lee Tunnel, the first of two ‘super sewers' which will transform the sewerage system in the capital.

London Mayor Boris Johnson is shown around the Lee Tunnel at BecktonLondon Mayor Boris Johnson is shown around the Lee Tunnel at Beckton

The £678M tunnel, the deepest ever bored in London, runs 6.9km from Thames Water’s Abbey Mills pumping station to Beckton sewage works. In conjunction with the Thames Tideway Tunnel, which is yet to be built, it will significantly increase the capacity of London’s sewer system and vastly reduce untreated discharges into the River Thames and River Lee.

London has outgrown its Victorian sewage system network, which captures both rainfall and sewage and was designed to be used by up to two million people, but is now used by more than six million. In a typical year, 39 million tonnes of untreated sewage mixed with rainwater has been discharged into the River Thames from overloaded treatment works and combined sewer outfalls. These discharges have prevented flooding of homes and streets after heavy rainfall, but at the cost of serious pollution to the river.

The biggest of these outfalls, at Abbey Mills pumping station, has been discharging 16 million tonnes of sewage to the River Lee in a typical year. The Lee Tunnel will capture the polluting sewage and keep it out of the river, which will become much cleaner.

By increasing capacity in the sewer network the tunnel will carry the excess sewage, which has previously been discharged to the River Lee, to Thames Water’s Beckton sewage works in Newham for treatment. Beckton STW has already been expanded by 60 per cent in preparation for the increased flows. 

The Mayor of London Boris Johnson MP said: “This amazing new super sewer is providing the bold infrastructure needed to support the movements of our rapidly growing city. For years our historic Victorian systems have heaved at the seams, muddling along, battling to cope with the increasing rainfall and waste of a modern population. Now the River Thames will benefit from vast improvements to its water quality with less pollution and overflow. Alongside my sustainable drainage work to reduce flooding, the investment in the Lee and the forthcoming Thames Tideway Tunnel are set to benefit Londoners for generations to come.”

Thames Water chief executive Martin Baggs added: “We are honoured that the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, was here to celebrate the opening of the groundbreaking Lee Tunnel, which is a crucial part of our ongoing work to clean up the River Thames.

“While the Victorian system still works very well, it needs additional capacity to cope with 21st century London. The Lee Tunnel and, when completed and connected, Thames Tideway Tunnel, will together capture the tens of millions of tonnes of sewage that currently overflow untreated into the tidal Thames every year. This will protect the future of the iconic river and capital for future generations.”

The Lee Tunnel is the largest single project in the history of the privatised water industry in England and Wales and is the deepest ever bored under the capital at around 75 metres deep. It is the width of three double decker buses and is the most significant development of London’s Victorian sewers since Sir Joseph Bazalgette originally built the network in the 1860s. 

Alongside major upgrades already completed by Thames Water at its five main sewage works along the tidal River Thames, the Lee Tunnel will transform the quality of the River Thames and River Lee for river users, wildlife and those who live and work in the capital for generations. Construction on the Thames Tideway Tunnel, which will connect to the Lee Tunnel, will start later this year.

Author: James Brockett,
Topic: Sewer Networks
Tags: Thames Water , sewage , thames tideway project

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