More muscle is being added to the mission to protect the environment in rural South Gloucestershire with nearly £3 million of investment in two projects getting under way this winter.
Water treatment facilities outside both Wotton-under-Edge and Wickwar are getting an upgrade as part of Wessex Water’s ongoing drive to reduce the impact of damaging chemicals found in sewage from homes and businesses.
New equipment and upgraded processes will be installed at the respective sites in year-long projects to protect the area’s watercourses, ensuring that treated wastewater being released back into nearby eco-systems meets the highest standards.
The work will focus on tackling the issues caused by chemicals like phosphorus, ammonia and nitrogen, that are often found in many household products and, consequently, in sewage arriving at water recycling centres.
High concentrations of these nutrients can cause large growths of algae in waterways such as streams and rivers, damaging plants and animals in those areas by depleting the amount of oxygen in the water – a process known as eutrophication.
Farm slurries, agricultural fertilisers and septic tanks are also regular sources of these nutrients, with Wessex Water committing millions of pounds across its region to address the issue.
Wessex Water’s project manager Lee Hopson said: “These projects are important because they play a key role in helping to protect the rural environment in South Gloucestershire.
“Nutrients finding their way into our watercourses is a challenge that is constantly evolving, especially as our population increases and our task is to continue to remove them and make sure the treated water that is returned to the environment is of the highest quality.’’
More than £40 million of similar work to improve treatment methods has been completed or has already got under way across neighbouring Somerset this autumn.
While these schemes will focus on updating or improving existing equipment at the water recycling sites, the South Gloucestershire area has already been the focus of Wessex Water’s innovative and industry-leading approach towards finding natural alternatives to treat wastewater.
Nearby Cromhall Water Recycling Centre boasts a constructed wetland that has already delivered results in reducing the amount of chemicals in treated effluent to be released back into the environment.
The wetland started operating in 2021 as part of moves to ensure the water quality and ecology of the nearby Tortworth Brook was protected and enhanced.
Findings reported to the Environment Agency last year showed that wetlands can keep the concentration of phosphorus in effluent within permitted limits. Further research showed they effectively remove microplastics and more than 70 per cent of some compounds from the water, as well as reducing the bacteria being released into the environment by more than 95 per cent.
A biodiversity value increase of more than 100 per cent was also projected to continue over 30-year period.
Wessex Water has proposed a commitment of more than £900 million towards stripping out nutrients from wastewater as part of around £3.5 billion of new investment between 2025 and 2030 – more than double the current five-yearly spend – in its recently-published Business Plan.
The plans will be considered by industry regulators Ofwat before an announcement next year.