Wastewater Treatment: The Challenges and Opportunities

By Pamela Taylor, Chief Executive, Water UK
We are moving into a new phase in our quest to improve water quality and the environment to an extent perhaps deemed unthinkable by our predecessors. The Water Industry supports the principles enshrined in the Water Framework Directive which seek to manage and improve water quality and the environment in a sustainable way by challenging the need for remedial measures from diffuse pollution sources and also recognising that end-of-pipe solution is only part of the answer. In defining solutions to waste waters all industries should continue to consider and review the impacts of the key facets of sustainability: environment, economic and social.

Less than two hundred years ago we had no wastewater treatment works for our municipal wastewaters in the UK. We relied solely on the biochemical treatment capacity of our streams, rivers, lakes and seas. As society developed we generated and discharged more wastewaters into water courses, some of which became overloaded and septic, particularly our streams and rivers.

In the UK today we treat our municipal wastewaters to various chemical, biological, biochemical and physical standards established through legislative frameworks in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. These Regulations are influenced by European Commission Directives which are in turn influenced by the work by World Health Organisation (WHO) and other research work. It is worth noting that WHO Guidelines, EC Directives and UK Regulations are all subject to consultation and so subject to challenge and change if adequate evidence to contrary proposals can be given.

Looking into the future, it is fair to say that our knowledge of the impact of chemical, biochemical and biological parameters on water quality will continue to increase. New parameters will be introduced and some of the existing ones may be revised or removed with increased knowledge, the Priority Substances being current examples.

To meet our collective obligations, to protect our customers and the environment in a sustainable way we need to make objective and robust judgements based on clear understanding of the science, the impact on health and the environment, as well as economic and social implications. These drivers are not mutually exclusive and indeed are sometimes in contention.

Water and wastewater service providers in England and Wales are funded through price limits as part of the Period Review by the economic regulator, Ofwat. These price limits are set to enable companies to meet a range of obligations such as new water quality and environmental standards, maintaining existing assets and meeting customers’ needs at defined set levels of service.

Since privatisation in England and Wales in 1989, we have funded a £50 billion investment programme, averaging about £3 billion per year up to 2005. On average about 50% of this investment has been used on water quality and environmental programme involving provision of wastewater and related treatment facilities. It is anticipated that quality and environmental programmes in the 2004 periodic review could account for 30 to 50% of the overall investment requirements.

The programme of measures required in the Water Framework Directive and the ongoing revisions to the Bathing Water Directive are likely to increase the quality and environmental investment obligations of the water industry. To date funding for increasing quality and environmental obligations in England and Wales has been masked by increasing efficiency savings by water companies. The true costs of improving the quality of our rivers and coastal waters (including drinking water quality improvements) have therefore been off set by these efficiency savings.

Given the limited scope for further efficiency savings in the water industry, and the increasing environmental and quality statutory obligations, it is likely that the true cost of these obligations will have to be reflected in the future. Otherwise we will need to find alternative and novel ways to meet the challenges of environmental and water quality improvements.

Other quality related obligations that may require additional investment include odour control measures associated with existing sewage treatment works.

In addition to these new environmental and quality obligations we also face challenges as wastewater treatment service providers.

As wastewater service providers we are obliged to accept wastewaters generated by a range of our customers. We have some statutory backing under Trade Effluent Licences to control the amounts of various substances allowable in the effluents discharged into our sewers. These licences are subject to periodic reviews, so in principle, we could discontinue our service to some customers or take legal action if the effluent contains hazardous/dangerous substances that should be eliminated from the environment in accordance with relevant UK legislation and EC Directive.

Notwithstanding the statutory and legal difficulties, the practicalities of this approach may be fraught with difficulties such as provision of alternative treatment facilities on site or tanker facilities to transfer non-compliant wastewaters off site.

As knowledge increases about the effects of substances on the environment and water quality, we will need to find suitable technologies for treatment and methods of monitoring the effectiveness of treatment adopted. As an industry we will have to meet the challenge of measuring some chemicals and substances, and hence assess their effect on the environment due to limitations in technologies (measurement and treatment).

Wastewater service providers, the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, general manufacturing and environmental practitioners are becoming increasingly aware of the effects of products and chemicals on the aquatic environment. The Dangerous, Hazardous and Priority Substances Directives are challenging all industries to review the impact of chemical components on the environment. The levels of detection of some of the chemicals and substances listed in these directives are yet to be agreed or determined. In fact the amounts of some of these substances found in the effluent discharges and in some the aquatic environment are too low to be detected by today’s methodologies.

We are also reviewing the effect of various products on our sewerage system and sewage treatment works and would seek to develop partnerships with manufacturers and suppliers to attaining sustainable solutions.

As wastewater service providers we are obliged to accept wastewaters generated by a range of our customers. We have some statutory backing under Trade Effluent Licences to control the amounts of various substances allowable in the effluents discharged into our sewers. These licences are subject to periodic reviews, so in principle, we could discontinue our service to some customers or take legal action if the effluent contains hazardous/dangerous substances that should be eliminated from the environment in accordance with relevant UK legislation and EC Directive.

Notwithstanding the statutory and legal difficulties, the practicalities of this approach may be fraught with difficulties such as provision of alternative treatment facilities on site or tanker facilities to transfer non-compliant wastewaters off site.

As knowledge increases about the effects of substances on the environment and water quality, we will need to find suitable technologies for treatment and methods of monitoring the effectiveness of treatment adopted. As an industry we will have to meet the challenge of measuring some chemicals and substances, and hence assess their effect on the environment due to limitations in technologies (measurement and treatment).

Wastewater service providers, the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, general manufacturing and environmental practitioners are becoming increasingly aware of the effects of products and chemicals on the aquatic environment. The Dangerous, Hazardous and Priority Substances Directives are challenging all industries to review the impact of chemical components on the environment. The levels of detection of some of the chemicals and substances listed in these directives are yet to be agreed or determined. In fact the amounts of some of these substances found in the effluent discharges and in some the aquatic environment are too low to be detected by today’s methodologies.

We are also reviewing the effect of various products on our sewerage system and sewage treatment works and would seek to develop partnerships with manufacturers and suppliers to attaining sustainable solutions.


Tags

| consultation | efficiency savings | manufacturing | Scotland | wastewater treatment

Topics

Water
Click a keyword to see more stories on that topic, view related news, or find more related items.

Comments

You need to be logged in to make a comment. Don't have an account? Set one up right now in seconds!


© Faversham House Group Ltd 2003. edie news articles may be copied or forwarded for individual use only. No other reproduction or distribution is permitted without prior written consent.