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  • by Trevor Loveday

Researchers warn of "drastic" climate change threat to infrastructure resilience


Researchers from the University of Portsmouth have found that climate change and increasing populations could be “drastically reducing” the resilience of UK wastewater infrastructure and increasing the risk of pollution and damaging flood events.

The study, in collaboration with Southern Water and Thames Water, found that dynamic stressors, including higher rainfall intensity and extended dry periods, could be linked to pollution events. Lead author of the study report, Timothy Holloway from the University of Portsmouth’s School of Civil Engineering and Surveying, warned that the increased stress on wastewater treatment works “could result in inland flooding, flood and storm damage in coastal areas, and damages to infrastructure.”

Holloway said that changes in practice were needed: “If we continue on the same path, it is extremely likely that we will experience more severe pollution events due to new and rapidly emerging stressors on wastewater systems.”

The research team has claimed to be the first to use instrument data from operational and compliance monitoring to track real-life stressors and their influence on wastewater treatment works. It said the findings echo the latest IPCC report, “which states with high confidence that extreme weather linked to climate change will cause damage to infrastructure.”

The team warned that understanding how stressors lead to dramatic changes in wastewater volume and concentration was crucial to avoid damaging pollution incidents. That understanding, the researchers said, will give water companies an extended reaction time to events and the possibility of reducing the impact on a wastewater treatment plant (which they refer to as water resource recovery facilities).

The water companies indicated that the research was already yielding benefits saying it has made them “better able to cope with disruptions, predict and take proactive measures before asset failures, and create autonomous systems that ultimately improve the quality of water supplied to our natural environment.”


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