The Power of Collaboration

Welland Bio Power Plant, in Northamptonshire in the East Midlands of England, is currently under construction. Completion is scheduled for 2017, when the plant will generate enough energy to provide electricity for approximately 17,000 homes by gasifying 60,000 tonnes of dry wood waste each year.

The plant will make a positive contribution to the local community and the environment, not only through creating a sustainable electricity source, but also by helping to save over half a million tonnes of CO2 over the course of the project’s lifetime. This project will create over 100 construction jobs and 19 full-time jobs once operational, as well as support numerous local subject matter experts.

The site is located just a few metres away from the River Welland, which rises through the Hothorpe Hills, at Sibbertoft in Northamptonshire and flows through Market Harborough, Stamford and Spalding, before reaching the Hamlet of Fosdyke and entering the English channel.

During the planning process, MWH was keen to engage with all stakeholders. They included the Welland Rivers Trust and the Environment Agency, which have responsibilities relating to the protection and enhancement of the environment and rivers. MWH shared detailed plans which enabled all parties to review and provide feedback on the proposed development.

During discussions it became apparent that part of the River Welland, close to the boundary, had been identified as “Bad“ under the Water Framework Directive which measures and classifies water quality, after monitoring of the water quality was carried out.  Sewage effluents and trade and agricultural discharges were measured to determine any impact on the biological quality (fish, benthic invertebrates, aquatic flora), Hydromorphological quality (such as river bank structure), river continuity or substrate of the river bed and physical-chemical quality such as temperature, oxygenation and nutrient conditions. The Water Framework Directive stipulates that groundwater must achieve “good quantitative status” and “good chemical status” in order to achieve good ecological status (i.e. not polluted) by 2025.

As the current concentration levels for water pollutants exceed the desired standards the River Welland will not be classed as having a “good ecological status” and is at risk of failing the directive.

One of the main contributors to the quality issue is the rising population in rural parts such as Market Harborough, close to the Northamptonshire border, where the population has increased by some 8,000 in recent times. 

The additional homes, roads and increased sewage has put pressure on the river which has had a direct impact on the quality of the river water. Due to these increased pressures the river doesn’t have adequate resources to recover and repair itself naturally so by providing a source of good quality water the concentration level of pollutants will be reduced, thereby improving the waterways.

Our purpose is “Building a Better World,” and we feel we can offer a solution to enable the Environment Agency to meet the desired consent standards.  MWH, the Welland Rivers Trust and the Environment Agency combined their knowledge and experience to design an out flow system to treat the water before feeding it to the river. The agreed solution combined  a new soft outlet, settlement pool, reed bed and riffle, thereby providing a source of much needed clean and oxygenated water at approximately 22.6 litres per second.

This system will capture rainwater from the roof of the Bio power plant as well as other outbuildings on site, including a composting plant and a Theomorphic Anaerobic Digestion (TAD) food waste recycling facility.

Industrial water from the energy plant will then be treated using a muti phase treatment system to achieve discharge consent quality before being blended with the collected drainage from the site.

The final stage of the process will a reed bed to naturally cleanse the water before being released into the river. As a result of this the river water quality in this catchment area will improve dramatically.

Lisa Smallwood Project officer at the Welland Rivers Trust said, We believe that working alongside businesses and landowners is key to identifying and addressing issues at a local scale, which will accumulate to a wider ecological improvement for the water environment. Working alongside MWH has enabled us to demonstrate the effectiveness of these local partnerships.”

The active involvement of all interested parties has generated a level of excitement as the impact of this will benefit the river and surrounding wetlands with improved water quality.  Other anticipated benefits include:

  • A damper bank, which will attract more aquatic wildlife; typically dragonflies, damselfish, caddices, frogs, newts, bullheads and stickle backs, and plants including reeds irises, rushes and starwort
  • Wetlands assist the atmosphere and native habitats by reducing C02, enabling a naturally rich and sustainable environment in which species thrive
  • The Welland Rivers Trust will plant reeds, which will add protection and provide food and shelter and the much needed oxygen to benefit the habitats of the wetlands
  • Wetlands improve water quality in rivers and streams, they are valuable filters for water that may eventually become drinking water because they are effective at cleaning the water passing through them. Wetland plants and soils absorb much of the excess nutrients in the water.
  • Another valuable benefit of wetlands is their ability to store flood waters and can reduce flooding peaks by as much as 60 percent.

Mike Crane, MWH technical director, shared his views on the project:By engaging with local stakeholders at this level we have a better understanding of the pressures they face and can work with them to identify solutions to help improve the environment. The Environment Agency and the Welland River Trust rely heavily on community buy-in to get the river back to good ecological status and by taking a catchment base approach all stakeholders benefit by sharing knowledge which will ultimately have a positive impact on the implementation of the directive. The power of collaboration is recognised when the right group of people get together to achieve a common goal. Although a small footprint initially I believe that if the Environmental Agency in tandem with the Welland Rivers Trust work with local communities and industry to reflect this across the river basin this could greatly improve the river quality and make a significant difference to the natural habitats of the River Welland.”

This is a fine example of what the powers of collaboration can do and it is inspiring to see the positive impact local industry can have. Taking a catchment based approach will improve parts of the river and if this could be reflected up and downstream the positive impacts on the environment and waterways would be tremendous. These little changes are necessary for the future survival of our waterways.

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