Water Treatment: Phosphates

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs written question – answered on 8 May 2018.

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Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether water companies are required to operate phosphate removal plants in areas where there are high levels of phosphorus run-off; and what proportion of water supply facilities in such areas have operational phosphate removal plants.

Photo of Lord Gardiner of Kimble Lord Gardiner of Kimble The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Phosphorus inputs to English rivers and lakes are mainly from sewage effluent, including contributions from food and detergents and drainage from agricultural land. Dramatic reductions from very elevated river phosphorus concentrations in the 1980 and 1990s have been achieved in recent decades through reduced detergent phosphorous contributions, the introduction of phosphorus reduction treatment at sewage treatment works, and falling fertiliser use and livestock numbers. Despite this, phosphorus is the most common reason for English rivers not achieving Good Ecological Status under the Water Framework Directive Regulations.

Between 1995 and 2015 the phosphorus loading from water company sewage treatment works to rivers reduced by about 60%. By 2017 almost 700 sewage treatment works had treatment in place to reduce phosphorus loadings. This equates to some 25 million population equivalent, or just over 60% of the population served by sewage treatment works which discharge to rivers.

Even after these reductions, sewage treatment works remain the largest source of phosphorus entering rivers nationally, and further improvement works are being planned and implemented by water companies to meet Water Framework Directive Regulations.

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