HAVE you ever wondered what happens to your poo after you flush the toilet?

I spent a rather smelly afternoon at a wastewater treatment works in Hereford to find out what happens to sewage in the city and where it goes next, so you don't have to!

Little did I know that the process would be much more interesting than I would have imagined.

Welsh Water has introduced a new process at its wastewater treatment works in Rotherwas to minimise the amount of harmful phosphorus that enters the river Wye after sewage has been treated.

The water company invited me for a tour of the site, to see the new technology as well as the rest of the sewage process.

The team at the site do a job that, I think, most people take for granted. A lot of people don't necessarily worry about what happens after they've flushed, but the process of cleaning wastewater is important when it comes to the health of our rivers and the environment.

What happens to your poo in Hereford?

Welsh Water, which operates in Wales and the borders, including most of Herefordshire, is responsible for cleaning the sewage from wastewater.

All of the waste from Hereford passes through the wastewater treatment works in Rotherwas, where it is processed so that cleaner water can re-enter the river.

Hereford Times: Raw sewage arriving at the siteRaw sewage arriving at the site (Image: Bridie Adams)

The plant has had most of its processes in place for some time, with the new addition of the final step, which removes more phosphorus than before. This is part of a new £27 million investment in Hereford.

Here you can watch a video about what happens to your poo:

  1. The process begins as raw sewage is pumped in to be treated.
  2. The water is cleaned using lava rocks that come from steelworks in Port Talbot, Wales. The rocks carry bacteria that eat the sewage.
  3. Once the water has been through the whole process, it goes back into the river and the leftover sludge is driven to Cardiff in tankers, where some of it is sold on to farmers.
  4. To reduce the amount of phosphates getting into the river Wye, another step has been added to the process which means the water will be even cleaner when it enters the river, Welsh Water say.

Hereford Times: The new technology that removes phosphorusThe new technology that removes phosphorus (Image: Bridie Adams)

What is it like to work at the site?

Many of the workers at the Welsh Water site, including those in construction and engineering, spend most of their days outside.

Construction is almost always going on, and is made more difficult by the fact that the works are still active while engineering is carried out. As one worker said, it would be impossible to tell everyone in Hereford not to use the toilet for two weeks while construction is done, so instead they have to work around the live process.

One member of staff told me that the site can be a bit spooky at night, with hundreds of rabbits flocking to the sewage plant after dark.

This isn't the only example of wildlife venturing onto the site, as another staff member recounted the time a duck got stuck in a pipe and was rescued by workers. Thankfully, it survived.

Hereford Times: Staff at Welsh Water in RotherwasStaff at Welsh Water in Rotherwas (Image: Bridie Adams)

What are your thoughts?

You can send a letter to the editor to have your say by clicking here.

Letters should not exceed 250 words and local issues take precedence.

What is phosphorus?

Phosphorus is naturally found in human sewage, as well as getting into rivers from agricultural run-off, but is harmful to environmental health.

This is because phosphates cause algal bloom, which can damage the river quality and aquatic life. 

By removing this from the treated wastewater, Welsh Water says it will be doing its bit to help reduce phosphorus levels in the Wye.


What has Welsh Water said?

Welsh Water's managing director of wastewater, Steve Wilson, said: "As a company, we ensure we do our bit to protect the environment, and that includes the watercourses we interact with.

Hereford Times: Steve Wilson at the Rotherwas siteSteve Wilson at the Rotherwas site (Image: Bridie Adams)

"There are a number of factors which contribute to phosphate levels in watercourses, and we are committed to ensuring we do all that we can to keep our contribution to the minimum.

"Our significant investment here in Hereford and other sites along the Wye reflects this.

"We thank people for bearing with us whilst we undertake this work."