Ecological studies on river pollution control

  • Herbert A. Hawkes

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This collection of papers records a series of studies, carried out over a period of some 50 years, on two aspects of river pollution control - the prevention of pollution by sewage biological filtration and the monitoring of river pollution by biological surveillance.
The earlier studies were carried out to develop methods of controlling flies which bred in the filters and caused serious nuisance and possible public health hazard, when they dispersed to surrounding villages. Although the application of insecticides proved effective as an alleviate measure, because it resulted in only a temporary disturbance of the ecological balance, it was considered ecologically unsound as a long-term solution. Subsequent investigations showed that the fly populations in filters were largely determined by the amount of food available to the grazing larval stage in the form of filter film. It was also established that the winter deterioration in filter performance was due to the excessive accumulation of film. Subsequent investigations were therefore carried out to determine the factors responsible for the accumulation of film in different types of filter. Methods of filtration which were considered to control film accumulation by increasing the flushing action of the sewage, were found to control fungal film by creating nutrient limiting conditions. In some filters increasing the hydraulic flushing reduced the grazing fauna population in the surface layers and resulted in an increase in film. The results of these investigations were successfully applied in modifying filters and in the design of a Double Filtration process. These studies on biological filters lead to the conclusion that they should be designed and operated as ecological systems and not merely as hydraulic ones. Studies on the effects of sewage effluents on Birmingham streams confirmed the findings of earlier workers justifying their claim for using biological methods for detecting and assessing river pollution. Further ecological studies showed the sensitivity of benthic riffle communities to organic pollution. Using experimental channels and laboratory studies the different environmental conditions associated with organic pollution were investigated. The degree and duration of the oxygen depletion during the dark hours were found to be a critical factor. The relative tolerance of different taxa to other pollutants, such as ammonia,
differed. Although colonisation samplers proved of value in sampling difficult sites, the invertebrate data generated were not suitable for processing as any of the commonly used biotic indexes.
Several of the papers, which were written by request for presentation at conferences etc., presented the biological viewpoint on river pollution and water quality issues at the time and advocated the use of biological methods. The information and experiences gained in these investigations was used as the "domain expert" in the development of artificial intelligence systems for use in the biological surveillance of river water quality.
Date of AwardMar 1998
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorPeter D Hedges (Supervisor)


  • Ecological studies
  • river pollution control

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