Physical sciences, Earth sciences

Managing wastewater and freshwater ecosystems holistically

European scientists have developed solutions to improve the integrated management of urban wastewater systems and freshwater ecosystems

Policymakers have grown increasingly aware of the importance of water quality in rivers in the European Union. The Water Framework Directive (WFD) implementation requires integrated management of the different elements of the urban water system, such as natural water bodies, sewer systems and wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs). Without integrated management, resources are misused, freshwater ecosystems are degraded, and the overall costs of wastewater treatment increase.

The EU-funded ECOMAWAT (Ecosystem-based Management strategies for urban Wastewater systems) initiative has found solutions to enhance the integrated management of urban wastewater systems and freshwater ecosystems, which reduce environmental impacts while minimizing the costs of wastewater treatment.

ECOMAWAT examined current EU water legislation and found that updates are needed to account for integrated management. Updated legislation should promote the adjustment of a WWTP’s operational conditions according to the pollution loads of both the WWTP influent and the river.

Experimental work was conducted to better understand how WWTPs and freshwater ecosystems perform to attenuate traditional (organic matter and nutrients) and emerging contaminants (pharmaceuticals). Pharmaceuticals load reduction was much higher at the WWTP, but the attenuation efficiencies (as half-life times) were higher at the river. The link between sewers and freshwater ecosystems was studied for wet weather conditions through advanced monitoring and modelling.

Within ECOMAWAT a dynamic model was developed that couples a WWTP to a river in order to understand how contaminants attenuate across these two systems. It can be used to see how changing the operating conditions of the WWTP affect the attenuation of contaminants. A low-cost sensor was developed (and patented) that improves the monitoring of undesired discharges of untreated wastewater into freshwater ecosystems. ECOMAWAT contributed to Life Cycle Assessment application to WWTPs by providing comprehensive inventories of resources required for the construction and operation of sewers and WWTPs.

In order to transfer the results from the scientific community to society, EcoMaWat contributed to the development of an educational game (played from computers and tablets) which highlights the importance of integrated management of urban wastewater systems.

ECOMAWAT resulted in 20 published papers, more than 30 contributions to conferences, 3 book chapters, 1 patent, and 2 PhD thesis. Since the start of the project in 2011, the number of citations from the P-Index tripled (from 49 up to 145 citations/year) and the H-index rose from 10 to 15 (Google Scholar). EcoMaWat was fundamental for the research career of its PI to start a new and independent research line at the Catalan Institute for Water Research (ICRA). The PI consolidated his position as a junior group leader after being awarded the prestigious Ramon y Cajal Spanish grant (RYC-2013-14595). In addition he became ICRA’s PI of the EU project R3Water (GA No 619093).

Source: © European Union, CORDIS,
last modification: 2016-02-02 10:30:46