Experts warn that climate change and the increase

Researchers from the University of Portsmouth have examined dynamic changes in the resilience of wastewater treatment facilities in the UK, now known as water resource reclamation facilities (WRRF), and found that environmental stressors increased the potential for pollution events.

WRRFs play a vital role in our daily lives by producing clean water, removing nutrients, generating renewable energy and extracting other valuable bio-based materials from wastewater. These systems were designed to withstand upheavals or process disruptions to some degree, but a new study suggests that climate change and population growth are putting them under extreme stress.

The collaborative project with Southern Water and Thames Water was the first to use data from operational and compliance monitoring instruments to track actual stressors and their influence on WRRFs. It found that dynamic stressors, including higher rainfall intensity and prolonged dry spells, could be linked to each event. This also echoes the future challenges noted in the latest IPCC report, which indicates with great confidence that extreme weather conditions linked to climate change will cause damage to infrastructure.

To avoid damaging pollution incidents, the team behind the study say it is essential to understand how stressors manifest themselves, leading to dramatic changes in the volume and concentration of wastewater. This will give water companies an extended reaction time to events and the ability to reduce the impact on a WRRF.

The paper’s lead author, Timothy Holloway from the School of Civil Engineering and Surveying, University of Portsmouth, 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, published in Water Research, proposes using real world WRRF data to help mitigate further disruption for wastewater treatment operators in the UK and around the world.

Dr. Yang, Head of Water Quality Process Growth at Southern Water, said, “Southern Water has led the industry in effluent monitoring for two decades. Valuable long-term data from our monitoring program enabled this pioneering research. Southern Water’s current sewer monitoring program offers more exciting opportunities. We are in the age of digital transformation and climate change.

“This research offers a new tool to capitalize on advances in digital and detection technologies. It aims to enable the operator to implement the best strategies for operating a sewer system or treatment plant based on live data so that customers and the environment are better off. protected from the adverse effects of the external environment such as climate change. I am proud and feel privileged to work with the University of Portsmouth team on behalf of Southern Water. I look forward to more collaborations in the future.

Dr Ben Martin, Principal Investigator at Thames Water, added: “At Thames Water, we have reached the point where digital tools can leverage our performance and monitoring datasets to produce unprecedented operational benefits.

“We are now better able to deal with disruptions, predict and proactively take action before asset failures occur, and create self-sustaining systems that ultimately improve the quality of water delivered to our natural environment. To see the value of these efforts and similar efforts in industry and academia recognized in this white paper is encouraging. Working with Mr Tim Holloway from the University of Portsmouth has been extremely valuable as we seek to create cross-sector synergies on the ground.


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Teresa H. Sadler