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IMechE calls for EU water legislation reform

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Unreasonable waste water quality demands are driving up energy and chemical use as well as greenhouse gas emissions



Current European Union (EU) water legislation includes unreasonable waste water quality demands which are driving up energy and chemical use as well as greenhouse gas emissions, the IMechE has said.

In a report entitled 'Catchment Management in the Water industry,' the Institution said that while the EU Water Framework Directive has improved natural water quality, particularly in UK rivers, this has only been achieved through energy and chemical intensive treatments which are hugely damaging to the environment.

According to the report, current legislation is overly stringent and improvements in UK water quality have only been achieved through the construction of high energy intensive treatment processes at sewage treatment works necessary to meet the tightened effluent consent levels. This is costing UK water companies up to £9 million a year on electricity to run 300 blowers for activated sludge plants.

The water industry estimates that 1% of all of the UK’s electricity is consumed by compressors used for the aeration of wastewater at the nation’s sewage treatment works. Ofwat data from 2010 stated that Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions from the operational side of the water industry are approximately 0.7% of the total UK emissions.

The report recommends that Effective Catchment Management called for by Ofwat will not happen without structural reform as the water industry is too complex to achieve these goals. Catchment Management Teams must be given powers to make binding decisions, including the management of finance to implement those decisions. This should be recognised and treated as a key aspect of Ofwat’s strategy.

The Institution also believes that the current Water Framework Directive has created a number of unintended consequences. An example is the way it is causing greater environmental impact through unreasonable waste water quality demands, driving up energy and chemical use. The Directive needs to be urgently reviewed to enable a more holistic approach to water management across the whole water network.

Dr Jenifer Baxter, head of energy and environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said: “EU water regulation is aimed at improving the environment but the excessively stringent, universal rules have led to practices which do the very opposite. Currently, the negative side-effects of this directive to the environment may outweigh the benefits.

“The UN climate change talks will hopefully help put providing clean water and sanitation for all and driving down world emissions in the fore-front of political decision making; and revising the EU Water Framework Directive could be a relatively straight-forward way to help.

“A ‘one size fits all’ single European vision to improve water quality is neither effective, efficient nor appropriate. We need an urgent review to enable a more holistic approach to water management.”

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