£18m upgrade to protect Somerset watercourses

Ecological protection of Somerset’s watercourses and rivers is being significantly boosted by an investment of more than £18 million to reduce the impact of chemicals in wastewater.

A trio of projects are getting under way this autumn to upgrade water recycling centres close to the River Parrett, as the battle to remove potentially harmful nutrients from the water eco-system is stepped up yet another level in the county.

Work will take place at sites near Martock, Crewkerne and Merriott as Wessex Water upgrades current equipment and installs new processes to ensure that treated wastewater that is released back into the environment is of the highest standard.

Chemicals, such as phosphorus, ammonia and nitrogen that are often found in many household products, can cause excessive growths of algae that have damaging effects on plants and animals in rivers and streams because oxygen in water is depleted as a result – a process known as eutrophication.

High concentrations of nutrients are also found in farm slurries, agricultural fertilisers and septic tanks.

Beefed-up measures for the removal of phosphorus from wastewater during the treatment process before the water is returned safely to the environment, plus enhanced sludge storage facilities will take place at all three locations.

In addition, more than £5 million is being spent to remove chemicals and enhance the water recycling centre at Somerton to boost the protection of local watercourses and the nearby River Cary.

Wessex Water's project manager for the Martock and Crewkerne schemes, Rachel Weston, said: "The impact of nutrients on rivers and other watercourses is one of the main challenges we’re tackling within many areas of Somerset and by investing heavily in our sites, we’re fully stepping up to tackle this issue.

"By upgrading our water recycling centres, enhancing the processes within them, we can ensure we not only meet our water industry obligations but are also meeting the challenges resulting from an expanding population.

"These projects will help us protect the environment around the county's many watercourses, including the River Parrett, and ensure that treated wastewater we return to the environment is of the highest quality."

A £12 million project to protect the River Parrett further north in the county got under way in October at the water recycling centre at Langport, continuing more than £30 million of improvements either starting or finishing this year that also included schemes to reduce the automatic discharge of diluted untreated wastewater via storm overflows.

A £9.5 million project to boost both the treatment and storage of wastewater is already underway at North Petherton, next to the M5 motorway near Bridgwater, while at Hardington Mandeville, near the Dorset border, more than £6 million is being spent targeting and removing phosphorus and the provision of storm storage.

A further £12 million is being spent to do likewise at rural sites at Milverton and Bishop’s Lydeard this autumn and winter, tripling and doubling capacity at each respectively, as well as increasing storm water storage at Bishops Lydiard.

A project that concluded at the water recycling centre at Ilminster in October saw £7 million of new storage and chemical removal added.

Work at all four sites - Martock, Crewkerne, Somerton and Merriott got under way this autumn and is expected to continue for around a year.

Wessex Water has proposed a commitment of more than £900 million towards stripping out nutrients from wastewater as part of around £3.5 billion of new investment between 2025 and 2030 – more than double the current five-yearly spend – in its recently-published Business Plan.

The plans will be considered by industry regulators Ofwat before an announcement next year.