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So who needs a 4.2 billion pound super sewer then? Well, apparently London, the capital of England does funnily enough. Have you heard about it? The super sewer is the largest upgrade to London’s sewage system for more than 150 years; built 90 metres under London, it’s also the biggest engineering challenge for a generation.

Throughout history the River Thames has always played a central role in the life of London. Its contribution to the economic, social, political and cultural life of the modern-day city is difficult to overstate. And although the river has played a fundamental role in transforming London into the world’s global city, it has always been used as a conduit for the removal of the city’s waste for as long as the city of London has existed.

This all came to cause very smelly problem as the city’s population increased and in the hot summer of 1858, dubbed the ‘Great Stink’, a decision was finally made to rid the river of its burden.

Getting Rid of the ‘Great Stink’ in 1858

The great stink 1858.The Big Stink of 1858. Queen Victoria was ‘not amused’ / Image source

The smell of the Thames that year was so bad that curtains hanging in the Palace of Westminster had to be soaked in lime chloride to overcome it. Londoners, many of whom had lived through devastating outbreaks of cholera, now feared their river. Compelled ‘by the force of sheer stench’, Parliamentarians passed a bill into law to have the problem fixed.

The result was a magnificent, 1,100-mile network of super sewers comprised of more than 300 million bricks, designed by visionary engineer, Sir Joseph Bazalgette. In 1858, London was home to two million people. Bazalgette had the foresight to build his sewer system for a population twice that size.

However today, the number of people living in the capital is approaching nine million and millions of tonnes of raw, untreated sewage (the equivalent of 300 Olympic swimming pools) overflow the system and spill into the Thames each year. The fear of another ‘Great Stink’ is never far away.

London Gets a 4.2 Billion Pound Super Sewer

London Gets a Super Sewer.Inside the 25km super sewer / Image source

Tideway is the construction organisation behind this massive project delivering the Thames Tideway Tunnel to Londoners, building a 25km ‘super sewer’ under the Thames to intercept those nasty spills and clean up our river for the good of the city, its wildlife and it’s inhabitants. This solution is will retain the sewage safely in the system, which means creating extra tunnel, pumping and storage capacity.

Starting in Acton, west London, the super sewer (the Thames Tideway Tunnel), will travel through the heart of London at depths of between 30 and 60 metres, using gravity to transfer waste eastwards.

Yep, poo really does roll downhill.

Then the super sewer will run mostly parallel to the River Thames, as you can (see illustration above), at Limehouse in East London, the tunnel will travel northeast, beneath the Limehouse Cut, to Abbey Mills Pumping Station, and then onto Beckton Sewage Treatment works via the Lee Tunnel, which was opened in 2016.

Once work is complete at the 24 sites in London, the amount of sewage discharged into the Thames will have decreased by 95 per cent, creating a better environment for London and its inhabitants.

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