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GW4 FRESH CDT PhD Studentship: Chemical and ecological effects of combined sewer overflows on rivers

Department of Chemical Engineering

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Prof Jan Hofman No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

GW4 FRESH is a consortium of the UK’s top research intensive universities: Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter and research organisations, British Geological Society and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

This project will be based at the University of Bath.


Lead supervisor:
Professor Jan Hofman, Water Innovation and Research Centre, Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Bath
Additional supervisors:
Professor Steve Ormerod, University of Cardiff
Ms Ruth Barden, Director of Environment, Wessex Water


Sewer overflows are safety outlets of sewer networks. During extreme hydrological events, these overflows are necessary to protect treatment infrastructure, prevent streets from flooding, and avoid backflow of sewage into homes via domestic toilets. Especially in combined sewers, that collect and convey foul wastewater and stormwater, sewer overflows can be problematic, because untreated wastewater is discharged into receiving surface waters, with detrimental effects for water quality and ecosystems downstream. Even diluted raw wastewater contains high loads of many different pollutants, such as organic matter, nutrients (N and P), suspended solids, pathogens and organic micropollutants, for instance pharmaceutical compounds or their metabolites. The magnitude and extent of the effects depend on factors such as CSO frequency, overflow load, proportionate contribution to river discharge, season, and trait sensitivity of organisms in the affected ecosystems. These effects are at risk of intensifying, however, as demographic change, urban creep (extent of impermeable surfaces) and climate change are likely to alter CSO composition and hydraulic profile. Although research into CSOs is not entirely new, previous work is focussed on macroscopic water quality with emphasis on pathogens and pharmaceutical compounds. Papers focus mainly on potential sanitary and water quality risks. In contrast, little work has been done on the ecological effects of the CSOs, particularly to assess how these vary at different spatial extents, or in response to effects at different timescales (episodic to chronic). This is despite clear relevance to regulatory drivers such as the EU Water Framework Directive. Moreover, understanding the ecological impacts of CSOs provides a lens through which to understand the relative benefits of different mitigation options.

Key research questions are:

1. What are the ecological effects (ecosystem processes such as decomposition, biofilms, faunal composition and trait character… ) of CSOs locally and with downstream progression in receiving waters?

2. How do the effects of CSOs vary with the frequency, duration and magnitude of discharge?

3. What options might be available to mitigate the effects of CSOs to reduce ecological and water quality risks downstream?

The research will set up equipment to monitor CSOs in terms of pollutant load (macro determinands, pathogens, micropollutants), frequency, duration etc.). Furthermore, the ecological situation in the receiving water body will be assessed and monitored at replicate CSOs and compared to replicate locations upstream and with downstream progression.


Applicants must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an area appropriate to the skills requirements of the project.

You should apply direct to the CDT using online application form:

You do NOT need to apply to the University of Bath at this stage – only those applicants who are successful in obtaining an offer of funding from the CDT will be required to submit an application to study at Bath.


More information about the application process may be found here:

Anticipated start date: 28 September 2020.

Funding Notes

A GW4 FRESH CDT studentship is available covering Home tuition fees and providing a training support grant and a stipend (£15,285 p/a, 2020/21 rate) for a period of up to 3.5 years. To be eligible, applicants must be citizens of the UK or other EU country and have been residing in the UK for at least 3 years prior to the start of the PhD (apart from temporary or occasional absences).

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