The UK’s sewage infrastructure is increasingly vulnerable to “pollution events” due to climate change and rising populations, according to a study by the University of Portsmouth.
Wastewater treatment facilities play a vital role in producing clean water, removing nutrients, generating renewable energy, and extracting other valuable bio-based materials from wastewater.
Although these systems were designed to withstand variable environmental factors to some extent, the study reveals that they are increasingly under extreme stress.
Using instrument data from operational monitoring systems provided by Southern Water and Thames Water, she found that dynamic stressors, including higher rainfall intensity and prolonged dry spells, could be linked to pollution events. .
The researchers said the best way to avoid contamination is to better understand how events that stress the water system manifest themselves, to give water companies an extended response time to events and try to reduce the impact on infrastructure.
Timothy Holloway, lead author of the paper, said: “Improving the resilience of assets and infrastructure is a significant challenge for the water industry as operational disruptions caused by stressors become more common and difficult to predict.
“As we face significant political, social and environmental uncertainties, water companies and government agencies are forced to manage complex and dynamic changes in resilience to events beyond their control.
“If we continue on the same path, it is extremely likely that we will experience more severe pollution events due to new and rapidly emerging stressors on sewer systems. This could lead to inland flooding, flood and storm damage to coastal areas, and infrastructure damage.
The study proposes to use data from wastewater treatment facilities to help mitigate further disruptions in the future.
Dr Gong Yang, head of water quality process growth at Southern Water, said his company has been using effluent monitoring systems for two decades.
“This research offers a new tool to capitalize on advances in digital and sensing technologies,” he added.
“It aims to enable the operator to implement the best strategies for operating a sewer network or treatment plant based on live data so that customers and the environment are better protected from the adverse effects of the external environment such as climate change.”
Dr Ben Martin, Principal Investigator at Thames Water, added: “We are now better able to deal with disruptions, predict and take proactive action before asset failures, and build self-sustaining systems that improve ultimately the quality of the water supplied to our natural environment. ”
Last month, an environmental charity called for an ‘immediate end’ to the dumping of raw sewage into rivers in the New Forest National Park from various nearby sewage treatment plants.
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