THE River Irwell in East Lancashire is set for clear benefits as part of a £7million upgrade project.

Test drilling is due to begin next week for a major scheme, by United Utilities, which should see the quality of storm-water entering the general watercourse improving, with a knock-on effect for the Irwell in the Rossendale valley.

An extra level of water treatment is going to be installed at five locations across Rawtenstall, between now and autumn 2014.

The first phase of the works will see holes dug along Bacup Road, near to the Bury Road junction, with diversions being put in place along Bocholt Way.

Work on the initial operation is set to last for 14 days, until January 28.

Brian Jenkins, United Utilities’ project co-ordinator, said: “The new system will enhance already high levels of treatment at Rawtenstall, and will lead to a marked improvement in the quality of water in the Irwell, creating a cleaner environment for fish and wildlife, and a better quality of life for local people.

“When the final improvements are made, all stormwater will pass through a layer of screens, cleaning it to an even higher standard and helping to improve oxygen levels in the river.”

The improvements are being carried out to comply with stricter European water quality standards relating to fresh-water fish, before 2015.

Motorists are being warned though that the works could lead to peak-time delays but engineers hope disruption can be kept to a minimum.