Ahead of World Rivers Day on Sunday 26th September, Fish Legal issued the below letter before action to the Environment Agency following the publication of a regulatory position statement that allows sewage discharges, which would otherwise be unlawful, due to supply chain failures in waste water treatment processing linked to Brexit and Covid.

“The Environment Agency has just published a get-out-of-jail card for water companies. Their Regulatory Position Statement B2 (or RPS for short) tells the water companies that they can discharge in breach of their permits because of a shortage of chemicals used for sewage treatment due to Brexit and Covid. [see note below]

Fish Legal thinks this RPS is unlawful as the Environment Agency can’t change the law or say what is or isn’t illegal. If a water company discharges in breach of permit, it is in breach of the permit.  That is why we have written a “Letter before Action” to the Environment Agency threatening that we will launch a legal challenge unless they withdraw the RPS.

The water companies have been asked by the Environment Agency to “risk assess” the Waste Water Treatment Works  (WWTW) into categories A-C.

Category A is for WWTW which are “less critical” and “likely to have low environmental and downstream abstraction impact and should be de-prioritised in the scenario that treatment chemicals are unavailable, and all other mitigations have been exhausted.”

Fish Legal believes the water companies could take advantage of this rule and rely on the get-out-of-jail card provided by the Environment Agency. This could mean that Category A WWTW and their respective waterbodies could be sacrificed because the water companies cannot get their act together.

The Environment Agency has now provided a copy of these risk assessments by the water companies. We have copied below all the Category A – supposedly ‘low risk’ – sewage works and the relevant rivers.

What you can do

Read through the list of waterbodies under each utility company for your area and, if you are concerned about any of the local rivers that are mentioned, get in touch with your water company to ask what they intend to do to ensure that there is no pollution or environmental harm. Also ask them to update you if and when they decide to rely on the RPS and discharge in breach of their permits.

Yours sincerely
Dr Justin Neal
Solicitor, FIsh Legal

Fish Legal issued the letter claiming that a decision by the regulator to relax conditions in the permits held by water companies in England because of a shortage of chemicals used to treat sewage effluent is unlawful.  The Environment Agency has until the end of September to respond.

The Regulatory Position Statement for Water and Sewerage Company Effluent Discharges is here.

Click here for list of Category A WWTW sites