Rivers and Sewage

You’ve probably seen water pollution mentioned a lot in the news recently. Cases of sewage discharge and run-off from farming being released into rivers (like the River Wye), lakes (like Windermere) and into the sea (like in Kent) have hit the headlines repeatedly.

These incidents have rightly caused outrage and concern. Campaigning groups like WASP and petitions like Matt Staniek’s have drawn attention to the problem and are calling for change.   

The problem is widespread and it’s a big one – but who actually is responsible for sorting it out? Why is nobody being held accountable? As far as we can see, nobody wants to own up to being responsible for monitoring and enforcement when it comes to the issue of water quality and sewage pollution.

Whilst water companies are responsible for what actually flows into our rivers, it’s not very clear who has the responsibility for monitoring and regulating planned and unplanned sewage discharges. We asked questions of three public bodies about their roles: the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), The Water Services Regulation Authority (Ofwat) and the Environment Agency (EA).

The responses to our Environmental Information Regulations requests reveal a confused tangle of finger-pointing; each body suggesting another bears the responsibility for monitoring and dealing with this issue. We’ve had a look at what the law says and we believe Ofwat is ducking its responsibilities and we’ve written a Pre-action Protocol letter to them, to which we expect a response next week. You can read our letter below; section 6 lays out the case most clearly and section 6.30 describes the unlawfulness, we claim, of Ofwat’s approach:

PS yesterday we heard from Ofwat that they need another two weeks to respond to our letter – they are clearly finding it difficult to explain their position. We’ll keep you posted and we’ll keep Ofwat on their toes.