ANGLIAN WATER group is to challenge upcoming European water pollution legislation on environmental grounds, it emerged this week.
The water utility is using 'environmental footprinting' - a practice that involves measuring and comparing the impact of different activities - to argue that complying with European Union (EU) water directives will be more environmentally damaging than continuing with business as normal.
Under the EU's Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive, utilities must provide secondary treatment for sewage produced by all communities of 2,000 people or more. Sewage from many small towns and villages is currently discharged into the sea after only primary treatment.
But Anglian is arguing that secondary treatment is so energy intensive that atmospheric pollution caused by generating the electricity required, often outweighs the benefits to the marine environment of secondary treatment.
'Our biggest sustainability impact isn't discharges to water but energy consumption, ' said Anglian head of environmental regulation Dr Stephen Bolt.
Bolt's view was echoed by Rupert Kruger, a spokesman for Northumbrian Water and environmental and scientific adviser at industry body Water UK. 'The entire picture needs to be looked at, ' he said. Environmental footprinting 'raises questions about processes that in the long term may generate more negative impact than positive', he added.
Anglian has already presented a test case to the government arguing that secondary treatment of sewage, required under the Waste Water Treatment Directive, will be more environmentally harmful than discharging to sea after only primary treatment.
The study of Anglian's Aldeburgh plant in Suffolk is being weighed up by the Department of the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Environment Agency.
Implementation of the Waste Water Treatment Directive is already too far advanced for Anglian to appeal. However, the firm will be contesting tighter discharge controls to be brought in under revisions of the Bathing Waters Directive and the Shellfish Hygiene Directive, Bolt promised.