Ofwat and the Environment Agency have launched a joint investigation after recent data submitted by water companies revealed they may be discharging untreated wastewater into rivers. Peter Brewer, our Business Director – Technology Projects at Veolia Water Technologies UK (VWT UK) takes a closer look at the issue and how digital monitoring systems can help.
According to the Environmental Audit Committee, only 14% of English rivers meet good ecological status, with pollution from agriculture, sewage and single-use plastics the significant contributors. Wastewater from sewage treatment works and sewer overflows are also reportedly preventing 36% of water bodies from achieving good ecological status, due to sewage discharge and large spills by water companies.
What are the findings?
The findings from the Environmental Audit Committee are one of several recent reports that have emerged about the release of sewage into the environment. These reports have led to the Environment Agency requesting that all water and wastewater companies fit new monitoring equipment at their sewage treatment works to measure the quality of discharged wastewater from their sites, where the data will be provided directly to the organisation.
However, this equipment, already installed at over 2,200 sites across England, has revealed that a number of facilities may not be compliant, and are in breach of their environmental permits. The discharge of untreated wastewater into the natural environment poses a number of well-known risks, particularly to human health and aquatic ecosystems.
As a result, Ofwat and the Environment Agency have joined forces to assess the scale of the issue throughout England and Wales.
What will be investigated?
Specifically, the investigation will focus on each wastewater treatment works’ Flow to Full Treatment (FFT) – a measure of how much wastewater can be treated by the facility at any one time. Each facility’s environmental permit will often feature an FFT level. However, extreme weather events such as storms and heavy rainfall can lead to this being exceeded.
These extra flows will usually be diverted to storm tanks until the event passes, when it can then be returned to the wastewater treatment works for treatment and discharge. During prolonged or sustained storm events, environmental permits will also allow the release of additional rainwater and diluted wastewater from the facility after partial treatment.
Despite this, the data indicates that water companies are in some cases not treating the level of wastewater set out in their environmental permits before diverting it to storm tanks or discharging into the environment.
What is our solution?
Highlighted by the recent data, effective monitoring is a necessary measure that can prevent this issue from occurring. The integration of a digital monitoring system within the networks and at a wastewater site can help analyse the quality of discharged wastewater from the facility and also optimise flow and treatment time across the wider network.
Hubgrade is VWT UK’s digital tool designed to address operational issues and optimise a facility’s performance. Scalable for use on a single technology up to complete sewerage networks, Hubgrade can be installed on existing Veolia and non-Veolia equipment to alert operators when the quality of discharged wastewater has changed in real-time. Real-time optimisation of both treatment assets and networks is also an option, allowing the entire wastewater system to be optimised in real-time. When combined with weather data this enables Hubgrade to prepare the wastewater assets for extreme weather events.
In addition to this, water companies can benefit from innovative wastewater recovery technologies to increase a facility’s treatment capacity.
It is evident that stringent monitoring of day-to-day activities will be an increasingly crucial aspect of the Environment Agency’s approach going forward. However, by closely analysing performance with digital monitoring systems and adopting innovative wastewater recovery technologies, water companies can take steps to maintain compliance with their environmental permits.
For more information on Hubgrade, please visit here
About the Author
Peter Brewer currently operates as Business Director for Veolia Water Technologies UK. Peter is instrumental in the development and execution of Technology Projects, heading up teams in site management, project management and more. He is responsible for managers and engineers alike, maintaining and facilitating multiple facets of the company.