Articles & Case Studies

Booming marvellous idea to get rid of algae

Posted: Tuesday 27th September 2011

Floating reed-bed booms could hold the key to stopping dramatic blooms of algae fouling up water treatment works.

Algal blooms, which take place in spring and summer, are triggered by certain levels of sunlight and warmth – and they’re a big headache for water companies.

They spring up dramatically, in the space of 24 hours, and can severely reduce water works’ output by clogging up key pieces of kit used to clean and treat river water to drinking standards. Removing the algae requires costly chemical treatment.

In a bid to win the war against algal blooms, innovators at Thames Water have created a boom of reeds to float on Farmoor reservoir in Oxfordshire.

It is hoped they will stop the algae in its tracks, both at water level and beneath, by introducing microscopic animals that feed on it, like plankton. The platforms will also provide habitats for birds and other wildlife.

Dr Piers Clark, commercial director for Thames Water, said:

“The great thing about this idea is that it’s completely natural. We’re not building a big computerised algae-skimmer or dosing reservoirs with a new chemical – we’re just floating some reeds on a reservoir.

“We’re hoping the ‘good biology’, both natural and man-made, will take on ‘bad biology’ by sheltering the plankton from the fish and encouraging it to eat more algae before it grows into a big, pesky bloom and spags our water works.

“By getting rid of the algae in the reservoirs before it gets to the treatment works, we can be more efficient in driving down production costs, and also help to protect the environment by using less chemicals.

“In drier months, it also means we can get more water into the system quicker to help cope with demand.”

Rob Shore, Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust Head of Wetland Conservation , said:

"It’s great to see Thames Water looking to the natural world to deal with water issues. If this trial goes well, we’d love to see solutions like this adopted by water companies across the country.

"It's the smart choice. The natural world evolved over millions of years to keep a natural balance, so it’s inherently better than trying to engineer a way out of a problem. Ideally we want less polluted water running off the land and into our waterways in the first place, which again nature can help with.

"And the wider benefits are a huge bonus. WWT has been using reeds and other wetland plants to treat water at our visitor centres for many years. Our research shows that, as well as cleaning the waste water, they support a wide range of wetland wildlife from moths and beetles and even water voles, which in turn start to support and attract birds and larger mammals."

If successful, the booms will be implemented at other Thames Water reservoirs feeding in to water treatment works by 2013.

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