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UK will upgrade 140 wastewater treatment works to meet nutrient standards in sensitive areas

  • UK will upgrade 140 wastewater treatment works to meet nutrient standards in sensitive areas
    Credit: Pablo González-Cebrián/SWM

The UK Government has outlined measures to tackle nutrient pollution at the source, focusing on upgrading wastewater treatment works to stringent nutrient removal standards in areas affected by nutrient neutrality advice. This initiative is part of a broader effort to enhance water quality and support sustainable development.

A list which includes over 140 wastewater treatment facilities serving a population equivalent of over 2,000 that discharge into sensitive catchment areas is slated for upgrades. These upgrades aim to significantly reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, which primarily originates from livestock farming, housebuilding, and wastewater treatment processes. Excessive nutrient pollution can severely damage rivers and wetlands, harming wildlife and impacting local communities' quality of life.

The published list of wastewater treatment facilities is required to complete upgrades by April 2030 at the earliest, to meet nutrient pollution standards of 10 mg per litre for nitrogen and 0.25 mg per litre for phosphorous, which is the most stringent limit set by the Environment Agency to reduce pollution using currently available technology.

Any new development must not increase the levels of harmful nutrients in the environment. By improving the efficiency of wastewater treatment plants, the Government aims to reduce the pollution load from both existing and future homes, facilitating new housing projects in environmentally sensitive areas without exacerbating pollution problems.

These measures are part of the Government's broader Plan for Water, which aims to address sources of pollution and secure water supplies through increased investment, stricter regulations, and enhanced enforcement. Noteworthy actions include banning bonuses for water company executives when those companies have been involved in serious legal breaches, expanding the Environment Agency's regulatory capacity, and removing the cap on civil penalties for polluters. Since 2015, the Environment Agency has completed prosecutions for more than 60 cases, with fines exceeding £150 million against offending water companies.

Through these concerted efforts, the UK Government aims to significantly improve water quality, protect vital ecosystems, and support sustainable development, balancing environmental protection with the need for new housing.

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