We’ve all experienced the impact of the UK lorry driver crisis - Huge queues at petrol stations, an empty vegetable aisle or your local Nandos running short on chicken. However, making fewer headlines is the impact on the water industry and its environmental consequences.
In normal times the Environmental Agency carefully controls the discharge of any effluent into UK waterways using a system of permits. The permits mandate that water companies carry out certain chemical treatment processes to remove specific pollutants from wastewater.
One carefully controlled pollutant is the nutrients present in wastewater. Agriculture uses a huge amount of fertilizers to grow crops, some of which inevitably ends up in the water draining from farmland. Excess nutrients in waterways is a problem because it encourages an abnormal growth in algae that disrupts ecosystems in rivers and lakes.
The treatment process that removes excess nutrients relies heavily on the chemical ferric sulphate. Although ferric sulphate is manufactured in the UK, it is delivered to water companies using road haulage.
The Environmental Agency has published updated guidance allowing water companies to discharge wastewater that has not been treated with ferric sulphate in the case of Brexit or Coronavirus related supply disruption. The relaxation of rules is carefully managed such that the relaxation will only occur in waterways that are at a lower environmental risk.
A government spokesman has said that no water company has yet notified it of a shortage of chemicals and that the relaxation of rules is purely a precautionary measure.
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