The UK’s water companies have come under intense scrutiny this year, as alarming statistics about the volume of raw sewage that is being discharged into rivers and seas come to light. During 2022, official figures show that over 384,000 episodes of untreated wastewater discharge were reported in England and Wales.
This poses a threat to the environment and also to human health. Some level of raw sewage overflow into waterways is permitted during periods of intense rainfall to ease pressure on the sewage system. However, there is evidence that illegal dumping of sewage by water companies is now occurring on an almost daily basis.
The water regulator Ofwat and the Environment Agency are currently carrying out an enquiry into the scale of the problem, which it is feared may be even worse than the statistics show. Water companies have been accused of not investing enough in upgrading Britain’s antiquated sewerage systems, which were first built in the Victorian era.
As a result, a new National Overflows Plan has been created this year, which aims to invest £10bn in upgrading current sewerage systems. As a part of this plan, water companies will also aim to increase the capacity of wastewater treatment works so that they can cope with higher volumes of rainfall and sewage.
Some water companies have already taken action, announcing major overhauls of current facilities. The latest news comes from Southern Water, who have announced that they will be spending £30m to upgrade their wastewater treatment works in the New Forest and parts of the Test Valley.
The scheme will include work to reduce storm overflows by increasing the capacity of the sites with storm tanks. The company also intends to introduce a new treatment that will reduce the levels of phosphorus and iron levels in the water.
Project Manager for Southern Water, Daniela Pinto, said: “We’re keen to continue investing in our wastewater treatment works across our region and improve water quality. These works will help reduce storm overflows and also help the environment by reducing the amount of phosphorous in the water.”
Derren Kinnell, Project Manager for GTb, added: “This is another collaborative project with Southern Water. By making these improvements and upgrading some of the existing equipment, Southern Water will be able to meet new targets.”
“This work will involve increased vehicle movements to the site. We would like to apologise in advance for any inconvenience our work may cause to those people living in the area.”
The scheme is part of Southern Water’s wider Clean Rivers and Seas Plan, which was announced in the middle of November 2023. The company has pledged to invest £1.5bn to cut spills by 8,000 a year by 2035. Phase one will see an investment of £700m to be delivered by 2030.
The company will work with customers and local authorities to continue to develop sustainable drainage solutions that will help to protect the natural environment while also safely managing wastewater.
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