Thames Water

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Thames Water
Industry Water industry
Founded 1989
Headquarters Reading, Berkshire,
United Kingdom
Area served
United Kingdom, but principally South England
Key people
Production output
  • 2.6 Gl/day (drinking)
  • 4.4 Gl/day (recycled)
  • Increase£2.027 billion (2014-15)
  • Increase£1.944 billion (2013-14)
  • Increase£335.8 million (2014-15)
  • Increase£259.3 million (2013-14)
Number of employees
5,000 staff plus many contractors
Parent Kemble Water Holdings Ltd
Thames Water's headquarters building at:
Clearwater Court, Vastern Road, Reading, RG1 8DB
Water pumping station at
Water pumping station at
Sewage Treatment Works at Crossness
Chalk aquifer borehole under the North Downs at Albury
Thames Water van in old-style silver livery at Kentwood Hill, Tilehurst

Thames Water Utilities Ltd, known as Thames Water, is the private utility company responsible for the public water supply and waste water treatment in large parts of Greater London, the Thames Valley, Surrey, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Kent, and some other areas of the United Kingdom. Thames Water is the UK's largest water and wastewater services company,[1] and supplies 2.6 gigalitres of drinking water per day, and treats 4.4 gigalitres of wastewater per day. Thames Water's 15 million customers comprise 27% of the UK population.[2][3]

Thames Water is responsible for a range of water management infrastructure projects including: the Thames Water Ring Main around London; Europe's largest wastewater treatment works;[4] Lee Tunnel [5] and the UK's first large-scale desalination plant. Thames Water is a major partner in Bazalgette Tunnel Ltd which is building the £4.2 billion London Tideway Tunnel [6][7] Infrastructure proposals by Thames Water include the proposed reservoir at Abingdon, Oxfordshire, which would be the largest enclosed or bunded reservoir in the UK.[8]

Thames Water is regulated under the Water Industry Act 1991 and is owned by Kemble Water Holdings Ltd, a consortium formed in late 2006 by Australian-based Macquarie Group's European Infrastructure Funds specifically for the purpose of purchasing Thames Water. Other large shareholders in recent years include: BT Pension Scheme (13%),[9] the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (9.9%) [10] and the China Investment Corporation (8.7%).[11] The name of the company reflects its role providing water to the drainage basin of the River Thames and not the source of its water, which is taken from a range of rivers and boreholes.


Thames Water can trace its history back to numerous earlier companies and individuals stretching back to the early 17th century:

1600s, 1610s Edmund Colthurst, Hugh Myddelton and later Sir John Backhouse were the driving forces behind the New River Company and the New River, which routed water from Hertfordshire to New River Head in Islington, and provided an additional source of drinking water to London.
1850s Joseph Bazalgette's remediation of The Great Stink provided the company with much of London's present Victorian sewerage infrastructure and several listed buildings within its portfolio of sites. Also in the 1850s, Dr John Snow and William Farr's identification of the 1854 Broad Street cholera outbreak provided a stimulus to the better treatment of sewage. The Thames Conservancy was established in 1857 with unified control over water supply, drainage and navigation.
1973 The Thames Water Authority was founded, under the terms of the Water Act 1973, and took over the following water supply utilities and catchment area management bodies:[12]
1989 Responsibility for navigation, regulatory, river and channels management was transferred to the National Rivers Authority and later became part of the Environment Agency.[13] The remainder of Thames Water Authority was privatised as Thames Water Utilities Limited. The company became listed on the London Stock Exchange and was a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index.
1995 Following international expansion, Thames Water became the world's third largest water company[14]
2001 Thames Water plc was acquired by the German utility company RWE.[15] As well as its British operations, it continued as an international water treatment consultancy and acquired further overseas operations.
2006 On 17 October 2006, following several years of criticism about failed leakage targets in the UK, RWE announced it would sell Thames Water for £8 billion to Kemble Water Holdings Ltd, a consortium led by the Australian Macquarie Group.[16] In December 2006, the sale of Thames Water's British operation went ahead, with RWE keeping the overseas operations.[17]
2007 Under the new ownership, the company re-focused its efforts on improving its operational performance and announced the largest-ever capital investment programme (£1 billion p.a.) of any UK water company.[18]
2017 Under the Government's Open Water programme, and in common with all Water and Sewerage companies,[20] Thames Water must provide entirely separate Retail and Wholesale operations for its commercial customers, working through a central Market Operator.


Every day, Thames Water abstracts / extracts, treats and supplies 2.6 gigalitres (2.6×109 litres) of potable tap water from 100 water treatment works via 288 clean water pumping stations through 31,100 km (19,300 mi) of managed water mains to 9 million customers (3.6 million properties) across London and the Thames Valley.[21] It maintains 30 raw water reservoirs and 235 underground service reservoirs.[2]

Likewise, it daily removes, treats and disposes 4.4 gigalitres (4.4×109 litres) of wastewater from 15 million customers (5.1 million properties) using 2530 sewage pumping stations through 109,400 km (68,000 mi) of managed sewerage mains to 348 sewage treatment works across an area of 13,000 km2 (5,000 sq mi) of South England.[21] On 1 October 2011, it adopted 40,000 km (25,000 mi) - an additional 60% - of private sewers and lateral drains to add to its then stock of 68,000 km (42,000 mi) giving a new network of 108,000 km (67,000 mi). By 2015, this figure had grown to 109,400 km (68,000 mi) managed sewerage mains. Before 1 October 2016, it is obliged to adopt 5,000+ private sewage pumping stations to add to its current stock of 2530 managed sewage pumping stations [2][22]

Thames Water produces biosolid fertiliser as a by-product from the waste treatment, and supplies this to local farms.

It also recovers phosphates - an increasingly important source of a dwindling naturally-occurring mineral.

As of 2013, it recovered approximately 18 MW (156 GWh per annum), or 12.5% of its total energy requirements from renewable electricity generated from biogas collected from the sewage. Further biogas capacity, the burning of 'fatbergs' removed from London's sewers and substantial solar farms have enabled the company to announce a 2015-16 target of generating 36MW (318 GWh per annum) or 20% of its total energy requirements from renewable sources,[2][23][24] a 2020 target of self-generating 33% of electricity needs,[2] and a commitment to 100% renewable energy eventually.[2]

Health and Safety[edit]

In December 2014 Thames Water pleaded guilty to a charge under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 after the death at work of one its workers. They were fined £300,000 with £61,000 prosecution costs. The incident occurred at their Coppermill Water Treatment Works in Walthamstow, London E17 in April 2010 when an excavator reversed over and killed the worker in a slow sand filter. The prosecution followed an investigation by the Health and Safety Executive. [25]


As of 2014, Thames Water provides the second cheapest residential water and sewerage charges of all the combined Water and Sewerage companies.[26]

Since 2007, it has made capital investments at least £1 billion p.a. in its infrastructure - the largest such annual investment within the UK water industry. In 2014-2015, this figure was £1.4 billion.[2] This level of investment has allowed the company to defer, but not avoid, substantial portions of its corporation tax liability in line with UK tax law.[27][28]


2001-06 (RWE's ownership)

Thames Water was repeatedly criticised for the amount of water that leaked from its pipes by the industry regulator Ofwat and was fined for this.

In May 2006 the leakage was nearly 900 megalitres per day (Ml/day) and in June that year Thames Water missed its target for leakage reduction for the third year in a row.[29] The Consumer Council for Water, a customers' group, accused Thames Water for continuing to miss their targets for the past five years. In July 2006, instead of a fine which would have gone "to the exchequer", the company was required to spend an extra £150 million on repairs.[30]

2007-date (Kemble's ownership)

Thames Water has hit its Ofwat-agreed annual leakage-reduction target for the past nine years running (2006 to 2015).[2]

In 2006-07, the company stated that it had reduced its daily loss through leaks by 120 Ml/day to an average of 695 Ml/day.[31] For 2009-10 Ofwat-reported leakage was 668.9 Ml/day.[32] In its price control determination for the period 2010 to 2015, Ofwat did not allow the funds needed to finance a significant further reduction in leakage and used the assumption that leakage would be 674 Ml/day in 2010-11 and 673 Ml/day from 2011-12.[33] In 2011-12, actual leakage was 637 Ml/day; in 2012-13, 646 Ml/day; in 2013-14, 644 Ml/day; in 2014-2015, 654 Ml/day.[2]

The company has achieved these reductions by:

  • better pressure management of known problem sectors of its older water network
  • replacing 2,200 km (1,400 mi) of worn-out Victorian pipes, mainly under London

The recent successes in meeting leakage targets have mitigated the earlier failures to meet targets. As a result and in spite of a larger distribution network, Thames Water now leaks slightly less water than at privatisation in 1989, having reduced leakage from its 31,100 km (19,300 mi) network of water pipes by more than a third since its 2004 peak to its current lowest-ever level.[34] As of 2013 and with an older network profile, Thames Water leaked 25.8% [35] of supply, slightly less than Severn Trent at 27%.[36] As of 2015 Thames Water leaked 25.1% of supply.[37]


In the period 2005-13 Thames Water was the most heavily-fined water company in the UK for pollution incidents, paying £842,500 for 87 events. In 2016, it paid the largest fine for a single pollution incident of £1m.[38]

Conversely, in 2014, Thames Water admitted that it had accidentally over-reported the number of properties at high risk of sewage flooding between 2005-10. It agreed a compensation package for customers of £86m [39]

The Thames Tideway[edit]

Main article: Thames Tideway Scheme

Over centuries of London's growth from medieval times to the Victorian age, the natural tributary system of the Thames Tideway was converted first into public open sewers and then closed over into covered sewers which emptied directly into the River Thames.[40] Joseph Bazalgette's remediation of the ensuing 1850s Great Stink renewed much of London's sewerage mains infrastructure during the period 1859 to 1865. However, the new design was not intended to cope with the doubling of London's population over the following 150 years. The concreting of huge amounts of London's green spaces causes substantial rainwater run-off into the drainage and sewerage systems which had been expected to soak into the ground. As a result, even small amounts of rainfall in certain circumstances can cause London's outdated Victorian sewerage system to fail over, and release untreated sewage mixed with rainwater directly into the Thames Tideway.

Each year, on average, there are 50-60 such incidents and a total of 39,000,000 m3 (3.9×1010 l), or 39 million tonnes, is released.[41] In 2013-14, exceptional weather conditions and flooding caused a total release of 55,000,000 m3 (5.5×1010 l), or 55 million tonnes.[42] The released effluent follows the ebb and flow of the tidal Thames, and can take up to 3 days to exit the Tideway into the Estuary. For this reason, Thames Water advises against swimming in the Thames Tideway[43] and, by extension, walking in the tidal strand area. Despite this pollution, large marine mammals are increasingly found in the Thames Tideway and Estuary, indicating some level of year-on-year improvement [44][45][46]

The first two stages of the London Tideway Improvements were upgrades to 5 sewage treatment works and construction of the 6.9 km (4.3 mi) Lee Tunnel, formally opened on 28 January 2016.[5] Together, these are expected to result in an annual discharge reduction of 40%. This is equivalent to a reduction of 16,000,000 m3 (1.6×1010 l) or 16 million tonnes to about 23,000,000 m3 (2.3×1010 l) or 23 million tonnes of effluent.[47] The third stage is the 25 km (16 mi) Thames Tideway Tunnel, which was proposed by the Thames Tideway Strategic Study, including Thames Water, as an effective solution to deal with most of the remaining problem. On 12 September 2014, planning consent was formally approved by the UK Government.[48] On 24 August 2015, the building contracts were awarded for the western section (Ealing to Hammersmith: £416m - to BAM Nuttall, Morgan Sindall and Balfour Beatty), the central section (Hammersmith to Tower Bridge: £746m - to Ferrovial Agroman and Laing O'Rourke) and the eastern section (Tower Bridge to Stratford and Greenwich: £605m - to Costain, Vinci Construction Grands Projets and Bachy Soletanche).[49] On 3 November 2015, Bazalgette Tunnel Ltd received its operating licence from OFWAT, ensuring the start of the project.[7] The necessity for action has added urgency because of imminent water quality fines of up to £1bn by the European Commission on the UK Government.[50][51]

Other incidents[edit]

In September 2007, 5 km (3.1 mi) of the River Wandle, Greater London was polluted. In January 2009, Thames Water pleaded guilty and was "fined £125,000 and ordered to pay £21,335 in clean-up and investigation costs".[52] In February 2010, on appeal, the fine was found to be "manifestly excessive" and was reduced to £50,000.[53]

On 5–8 June 2011, more than 230,000 m3 (230,000,000 l), or 230,000 tonnes, of sewage were released from Mogden Sewage Treatment works, killing 26,000 fish.[54]

Between 14 and 16 August 2011, Thames Water polluted the Faringdon Stream, in Faringdon, Oxfordshire. The company was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay costs of £4,488 [55]

On 29 October 2011, Thames Water released thousands of tonnes of raw sewage into the River Crane, Greater London killing thousands of fish, when a six-tonne valve jammed during routine maintenance. Despite tankering and alternative routing, the volume of sewage from Heathrow overwhelmed the operations. Thames Anglers Conservancy's Robin Vernon said: “It will take a decade to repair all the damage done by the sewage spill. Everything in there is just dead now.”[56] In 2013, fungus and slime in the River Crane was attributed to run-off of de-icer from Heathrow getting into the river [57] In 2014, Thames Water blamed recent pollution on fat poured down drains by local customers[58]

On 9 December 2011, Thames Water was fined £60,000 after releasing sewage sludge into the Foudry Brook killing up to 20,000 fish in a three-mile stretch from Silchester, Hampshire.[59]

In September 2012, clogged-up pumps caused sewage to be released into the Chase Brook, near Newbury. A £250,000 fine imposed in August 2014 was adjudged "lenient" on appeal in 2015. The pumps were replaced by improved pumps.[60]

In January 2016, Thames Water was fined a record £1m for polluting the Grand Union Canal between July 2012 and April 2013 in Hertfordshire. In addition, it was required to pay costs of £18,000 and a victim surcharge of £120. In its defence, Thames Water said it had spent £30,000 replacing equipment at Tring.[38]

Local planning[edit]

In 2011, the company found itself involved in a controversial redevelopment plan for the Bath Road Reservoir in its home town of Reading. An appeal against Reading Borough Council's rejection of the plan was dismissed by the planning inspector in January 2011.[61] Full planning permission was subsequently granted on 10 December 2012.[62]


The exceptional rain and weather conditions of 2013-14 caused swollen rivers and several low-lying Thames Water treatment works to be submerged under flood water.

In February 2014, the River Ash caused flooding in homes in Staines-upon-Thames. This flooding was exacerbated by a two-day delay by Surrey County Council's 'Gold Control' flood control group in ordering Thames Water to close a sluice gate on a Thames Water aqueduct. Thames Water considered it had been following an existing protocol agreed with Surrey County Council and the Environment Agency.[63]


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External links[edit]