MANTEL ITN ESR Secondments
All MANTEL ITN Early Career Researchers will spend time on secondment away from their host institution. In this blog post, Elias Munthali describes his recent secondment to ATLL in Catalonia.
ATLL is a key stakeholder in supplying drinking water to Barcelona Metropolitan area, serving a population of over 4 million peoople. It has a diverse range of sources, abstracting from a river, sea (desalination) and reservoirs (Sau). As such, ATLL takes keen interest in water management projects in the Ter River Basin (Figure 1) for the sustainability of its business. Subsequently, ATLL is a partner, not only in the on-going MANTEL ITN Project, but also the WATExR project, both of which seek to better understand best water resources management practices in the Sau Reservoir, following a spate of high nutrient loads in the past that led to proliferation of algal blooms. As an institution operating within the EU, ATLL is bound by the EU law on drinking water quality relating to disinfection by-products (DBPs), and therefore has the responsibility to ensure adherence to drinking water quality standards at all times.
Figure 1: The TER River Basin, Catalonia. Source: Jordà-Capdevila et al. (2016).
As a requirement for the MANTEL ITN Project, from early December 2017 to February 2018, I spent a month at ATLL premises in Cardedeu, Spain, to appreciate treatment technologies for the control of dissolved organic matter and DBP formation. The early timing for the secondment was necessary because we needed to appreciate and grasp the current system in place in order to have a better focus for MANTEL ITN Project 9, which I am undertaking. Activities on the secondment consisted of: (1) Physically retracing treatment flow path of water; (2) A field visit to Sau, Susqueda and Pasteral reservoirs which are a raw water source for the Cardedeu water treatment facility; and (3) Gathering water quality data in ATLL´s custody.
While being taken through the treatment process is expected for any visit to a water treatment facility, retracing treatment stages was particularly important to appreciate spots for the control of dissolved organic matter and DBPs, in order to focus my MANTEL ITN Project on inadequacies and areas that may be vulnerable to a changing climate. The field visit was enriching and helped increase appreciation of pre-treatment at source and the level of control ATLL has on the reservoirs which also have other uses such as hydropower generation. Data sharing provided background information to determine the type and amount of other data that will be used to inform my research.
ATLL has concerns regarding levels of uncertainty affecting their operations which may be brought about by a changing climate. Previously, algal blooms have persisted in the reservoirs for several months, creating risk associated with algal toxins, and also amplifying the potential of elevated DBP formation in finished water. High algal biomass is a precursor for DBP formation. As such, ATLL are interested in identifying appropriate areas to which resources can be invested to better manage disinfection by-products, other than continuously upgrading waterworks technologies. This latter approach is likely to be unsustainable in the face of climate change. Subsequently, studies undertaken through the MANTEL ITN project may provide ATLL with the ability to further develop future management actions.
Of all the DBPs, ATLL monitors trihalomethanes only, which suffices for the current needs of EU legislation. However, the monitoring of other DBPs may be required in the future, due to increased research in other toxic species formed from nitrogenous compounds, and these may reshape regulatory compliance of drinking water quality. Thus, MANTEL ITN Project 9 may provide ATLL with information on other DBPs which they are not currently monitoring but which may be present in their source waters because of the wastewater effluent discharged upstream in the Ter river; and also because of eutrophication.
In summary, being a partner to the MANTEL ITN project not only benefits ATLL, it accords me access to their facility to better understand how theory is translated into technology that provides solutions to real world problems. Further, it offers an opportunity to demonstrate to the industry about the need to continuously interface with researchers for timely appraisals of new threats to the water supply industry.