THE River Derwent is to get a major clean-up by order of the Government - paid for by higher water bills.

The Government has told Northumbrian Water that sewage must in future receive further treatment before it is poured into the river.

Busy sewage works at the built-up areas of Consett and Lockhaugh, near Rowlands Gill, will be installed with extra equipment before 2008.

But a spokesman for Northumbrian Water said the extra work, which has not yet been costed, could end up leading to higher water bills.

The River Derwent is one of 33 rivers across the UK identified by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) identified for further treatment work. Other rivers and coastal areas include Seal Sands, at the Tees Estuary and River Wansbeck in Northumberland.

Defra identified the three places as having high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen which can adversely affect water quality and fish.

A spokesman for Northumbrian Water said: "We accept the decision that there must be a further treatment stage and we will work with watchdogs Ofwat and the Environment Agency to establish what specific levels of treatment are needed to meet the aims of the Secretary of State.

"Further treatment work will have cost implications which may be partly transferred to our customers but this is still a very early stage."

There are ten sewage treatment plants along the River Derwent but the works at Consett and Lockhaugh have been chosen as they both service areas with populations above 10,000.

Water firms across Britain were told they must further treat sewage being discharged in key rivers and coastal areas after a European Directive became UK law in 1994.