Storm sewage poisons thousands of fish

More than 600,000 tons of raw sewage poured into the Thames during this week's storms, killing thousands of fish, because the capital's drainage network could not cope, the Environment Agency said yesterday, .

Tuesday's storms caused an overflow that suffocated the fish and the Environment Agency has ordered Thames Water to add hydrogen peroxide to the waterway as an emergency measure to save other fish. Two barges known as Thames Bubblers aerate the polluted water and help microbes digest the sewage. A spokesman said: "The storm sewage has resulted in vital oxygen reserves being used up, causing the dead fish now visible between Kew, Brentford, and Isleworth." London's system cannot cope with even moderate rainfall, he added, and overflowed up to 60 times a year.

Today, the regulator Ofwat publishes draft price limits in a process that will affect future water and sewerage bills and involve scrutinising how each company is meeting its obligations. "This [overflow] clearly illustrates the seriousness of this issue," the spokesman said. "There is good reason to worry about the state of England's sewers and Ofwat needs to find a solution to storm discharges."

Robin Clarke, director of waste-water operations at Thames Water, said: "We deeply regret the loss of fish in the Thames last night." He said they were working with the Environment Agency to minimise the impact of the pollution and, despite this week's events, the Thames was among the cleanest metropolitan rivers in the world.

Yesterday, many people around the country were still mopping up after the ferocious weather when a month's worth of rain fell in an hour. A 15-year-old girl remained in a stable condition after being struck by lightning in London's Hyde Park; her two cousins are in hospital with burns and spinal injuries.

Traffic chaos continued in the capital and other parts of the country where roads were flooded, and train and bus services had to be suspended. Staff in the city's severely affected underground and train systems continued to clear up flood and lightning damage; roads in London, Derbyshire and Greater Manchester remained closed.

But fans at the Bristol music festival refused to be deterred and danced their way through thundery weather. Calm returned for most parts of the country yesterday, but the Met Office forecast that the South- east, in particular, could expect to be hit by more torrential rain on Sunday.

The environmental group Friends of the Earth (FoE) warned that the storms and their effect demonstrated a lack of preparation for the extremes of rain and temperature, which are caused by climate change.

Jenny Bates, FoE's London campaigns coordinator, accepted that running sewage into the Thames was the "lesser of two evils", compared to it flooding the streets. But she warned that action needed to be taken against climate change globally and locally to prevent other problems.

"We need to be more aware that this is the sort of thing that could happen so we need to take climate change and the effect of it more seriously," she said.

Government's plans for "huge growth" in and around London, she added, posed a particular threat. Building on flood plains would limit the number of areas which could be used to release water when levels were rising and heavy building would also create difficulties, she said.

"When you pour concrete in, you are taking up land that would otherwise normally act as a soak for extra water."

In a report last October, the London Assembly's public services committee said up to one quarter of the city's brickwork sewers - many of which date from the 1840s - were either leaking severely or on the verge of collapse.