ONE of the region's rivers is to get a major clean-up by order of the Government, but it will end up hitting the pockets of ordinary North-Easterners.

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

Busy sewage works in built-up areas of Consett and Lockhaugh, near Rowlands Gill, will be installed with extra treatment 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) for further treatment work.

Other rivers and coastal areas in the region identified include Seal Sands, at the Tees Estuary, and the 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 spokeswoman for North-umbrian Water said it was too early to put a price on the cost of installing the new equipment.

She 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 companies across Britain were first told they must further treat sewage being discharged into key rivers and coastal areas after a European directive became UK law in 1994.

Across the UK, the extra work is expected to cost millions of pounds.