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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2016

The greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with aquatic carbon removal during drinking water treatment

Jones, Timothy G.; Evans, Chris D.; Freeman, Chris


Peatlands and other terrestrial ecosystems export large amounts of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) to freshwater ecosystems. In catchments used for supplying drinking water, water treatment works (WTWs) can remove large quantities of this organic matter, and can therefore play a unique modifying role in DOC processing and associated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions within the fluvial system. During this study we quantified the GHG emissions due to processes associated with carbon (C) removal during water treatment at four contrasting WTWs in the UK. Our results demonstrate that the removal of DOC from raw water supplies via coagulation, leading to the formation of sludge, usually makes it less susceptible to short-term oxidation when compared to DOC remaining in the fluvial system. Although this could be considered a means of reducing CO2 emissions from waterborne carbon, the current practise of land spreading of sludge is unlikely to represent a long-term C sink and therefore water treatment probably only delays the rate at which fluvial C re-enters the atmosphere. Furthermore, we estimate that indirect CO2 emissions resulting from electricity use during water treatment, together with the use of chemicals and CO2 degassing from the water during treatment, far outweigh any potential CO2 reductions associated with DOC removal. Thus, the post-treatment handling of sludge has the potential to mitigate, but not to negate, GHG emissions associated with water treatment processes.


DOC; POC; Carbon dioxide; Methane; Drinking water; Greenhouse gases

Published in

Aquatic Sciences - Research Across Boundaries
2016, Volume: 78, number: 3, pages: 561-572

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Environmental Sciences

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