How Artificial Reed Beds are Helping to Solve Pollutants

IN 1858, authorities were forced to take action when a combination of hot weather, untreated human waste and industrial effluent caused the Great Stink across central London.

Prior to civil engineer, Joseph Bazalgette, putting forward his proposal for the interconnecting sewers and pumping stations that are still in use today, sewage had been emptied directly into the River Thames causing the transmission of many contagious diseases and outbreaks of cholera.

With commercial and residential building on the rise and the population growing rapidly, the system is coming under immense strain. Failing equipment, and a rise in the use of disposable cloths, is causing a build-up of large solids, hairs and fibres, which in turn is causing a direct impact on the water treatment process.

Pollution incidents
Faulty sewers and treatment systems are resulting in pollution and foul odours, effecting the environment, contaminating water sources and harming wildlife. The Environment Agency revealed that in 2017 water companies reported 52 separate serious pollution incidents – the equivalent of one per week. Ten of the most serious (category 1) were associated with waste water.

Water companies have an obligation to ensure that everything is being done to prevent pollution, and, as construction output in the UK continues to grow, developers and contractors should be conscientiously adopting methods that will help support these efforts.

Reed bed water treatment systems
One environmentally friendly method of water treatment is the installation of reed beds. Studies have shown that a reed bed may support over 700 invertebrate species and home mammals such as water shrews.

These aquatic plant-based systems work to digest organic matter in effluent. According to the Environment Agency’s ‘Pollution Prevention Guidelines’, reed beds can be used to improve the quality of effluent discharges from septic tanks, a settlement tank or package sewage treatment plants.

Wendi O’Toole, operations manager at Scott Parnell

Wendi O’Toole works at water management specialist Scott Parnell. She said, “Reed beds work to enhance the level of treatment before water is discharged or drained elsewhere, such as a watercourse. In some cases, a reed bed is a legal requirement so it is important to ensure that you establish if this is a necessity first. There are certain sites where reed beds will be invaluable, such as those with poor drainage.”

Vertical and flow reed beds
There are two types of basic reed bed – vertical flow and horizontal flow – which work to break down pollutants using oxygen. Installing two vertical flows, one functioning and one resting, would enable you to swap one for the other on a regular basis to prevent blockages and aid maintenance. These are usually installed to treat septic tank effluent and are able to handle stronger strength effluent than horizontal flow reed beds.

A horizontal reed bed would follow a vertical one, operating without oxygen. It turns nitrates to nitrogen gas, helping to limit nitrate. Typically, they would be used to help aid a package sewage treatment plant and the treatment of discharge.

Wendi continued, “Reed beds are usually constructed over an impermeable base membrane – such as ProFlex – and the reeds planted in a mix of soil and gravel. Once set up, reed beds are relatively straightforward to maintain.

“If well-planned, reed beds can not only support biodiversity but help to solve pollution problems and support sewage system performance.”

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