Discharges to Controlled Waters

Key Legislation:

For more detail on the Legislation relevant to this page, please use the following links:

Supporting Legislation:

Guidance notes for Scotland are available from the SEPA website.

The Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Regulations 2011 – A Practical Guide (PDF document)

Additional information for England and Wales is available from the DEFRA website.

Guidance on assessing risks to groundwater from landfills is now available for consultation. See consultation.

The Environment Agency and Defra have provided some management guidance on how to carry out a risk assessment if you’re applying for a bespoke permit that includes the discharging of hazardous pollutants to surface water.

Consent Needed:

The discharge of any non IPPC emission to controlled waters (see the Performance Standards tab) requires a Consent to Discharge from the appropriate regulatory agency:

  • The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) in Scotland
  • The Environment Agency (EA) in England and Wales

If the discharge is to be made into a “Main River” body, permission is also required.

Types of Discharge which Require Authorisation:

Any liquid discharges which are liable to be contaminated should be discharged to sewer, or discussed with the relevant Agency with a view to authorisation to discharge to controlled waters (see the Performance Standards tab). Above certain minimum limits, discharges of the following types may require authorisation:

  • Drainage from roofs and hardstandings
  • Drainage from fuel delivery areas
  • Drainage from raw material delivery areas
  • Drainage from material storage areas
  • Direct discharge of treated waste-water
  • Water from external washing and cleaning activities
  • Sewage or septic tank drainage from industrial or commercial premises

More information on Discharges to Sewer is available here.

How to Apply for it:

Application for a Consent to Discharge must be made in writing to the regulatory authority (SEPA/EA). Completed forms must be submitted to the local SEPA/EA office for approval.

Application forms for discharges to controlled water in Scotland can be obtained from the SEPA website. Guidance and application forms for consent to discharge to controlled water in England and Wales is available from the Environment Agency website.

Information Required in a Consent Application:

The following information will be required in any consent application to SEPA or the EA:

  • Address of property from which effluent is to be discharged.
  • Details of applicant and agent.
  • Grid reference of site.
  • Name of local council area.
  • Description of discharge (e.g. treated sewage effluent, storm sewage, surface water, trade effluent).
  • Type of outlet, including construction material.
  • Type of controlled water outlet will discharge to.
  • Detailed information on composition of different types of effluent, including area drained for surface water, flow of domestic sewage, pump rates for overflows and temperature of trade effluent.
When to Apply:

SEPA and the EA are required to make a decision on an application within four months of receiving the application.

Controlled waters:

Controlled waters are defined as virtually all freshwater including relevant territorial waters (extending 3 miles seawards from baseline), coastal waters (water inland of baseline), inland waters, surface water, public supply reservoirs and groundwater.

Discharge limits:

The consent is likely to detail the allowable discharge rate(s) and volumes(s), and the periods during which discharges can be made.

In addition, the consent is likely to include discharge standards for: suspended solids, biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), pH, temperature and concentration of hydrocarbons.

Sampling and Monitoring Requirements:

Monitoring and sampling is undertaken by the operator of a facility and the requirements are case specific as outlined in each individual consent. They are however likely to include the following:

  • Facilities for taking samples.
  • Meters for measuring or recording the volume and rates of discharges and apparatus for determining the nature, composition and temperature of the discharges.
  • Procedures for recording of sampling and monitoring data (i.e. maintenance of log book which must contain at least the previous 4 years records).
What to Report:

Exact reporting requirements will be specified in each consent including timescales for forwarding information to SEPA or the EA (e.g. monthly averages, monthly maximum concentrations and levels of exceedance).

In addition the Log book must be kept available for inspection at all times.

Who to report to: SEPA/EA.
When to Report: Reporting timescale will be specified in the consent.
Environment Agency: Civil Sanctions: On 4 January 2011, the Environment Agency will begin using new civil sanctions to take action that is proportionate to the offence and the offender, and reflect the fact that most offences committed by businesses are unintentional.
Pollution Incidents:

It is an offence to cause pollution of controlled water, deliberately or accidentally, and the agencies (SEPA/EA) can prosecute offenders.

It is also an offence to contravene a consent to discharge condition and the agencies (SEPA/EA) can serve Enforcement Notice on the holder of the consent. It is a further offence to fail to comply with an enforcement notice.

Failure to comply with a consent to discharge is an offence subject to a fine not exceeding £20,000 and/or imprisonment not exceeding three months at the Magistrates Court and an unlimited fine or prison sentence of up to two years at the Crown Court.

What to do in Breach of a Consent: Inform SEPA or the EA immediately.
Renewal and Variation: Any changes to discharge requirements will require a new application for Consent to Discharge.
Water Framework Directive:

The EU Water Framework Directive is enabled in the UK through the Water Environment and Water Services (Scotland) Act 2003 and the Water Environment (Water Framework Directive) (England and Wales) Regulations 2003.

Work is now ongoing with respect to detailed implementation in the UK. New proposed control regimes include:

  • New controls on abstraction and impoundment to deal with environmental impacts caused by modification of dams and other structures.
  • Controls on building, engineering and other works that may impact aquatic habitats.

Control regimes must be in place by December 2009 and operational by December 2012. However, it is anticipated that new measures will be phased in over a longer time period, allowing sufficient time for planning to meet the conditions by 2012. New regimes are expected to be phased in over two years from April 2005. This will include the transfer of existing consents.

Further information on ongoing work towards implementation can be found on the SEPA website and the DEFRA website.

Environmental Permitting Programme (EPP2):

The second phase of the ‘Environmental Permitting’ Programme (EPP2) is now being consulted on. EPP2 aims to reduce costs for operators and the regulator by cutting unnecessary red tape, while continuing to protect the environment and human health. The proposal is to create a common system of risk-based environmental permitting including:

  • Certain discharges to surface waters
  • The disposal of specific substances into groundwater
  • Permits for radioactive materials and for disposal of radioactive waste

See DEFRA consultation on Environmental Permitting Programme.

Proposals for an Integrated Framework of Environmental Regulation:

The proposals outlined by SEPA will deliver a simpler legislative framework which will enable SEPA to focus its greatest effort on the environmental problems that matter most. It will provide a more consistent range of enforcement tools so that, proportionate and effective action can be taken against those who would damage the environment. The consultation that has been undertaken is built on previous consultations focusing on changes to the structure of environmental protection legislation in order to create a new, integrated framework for the permissions (licences, permits, rules, etc.) which will be used to control activities which could harm the environment.

Environmental Quality Standards in the Field of Water Policy (Directive 2008/105/EC:

Directive 2008/105/EC has been published dealing with environmental quality standards in the field of water policy. It establishes quality standards for priority substances and certain other pollutants as provided for in Article 16 of Directive 2000/60/EC. The aim is to achieve good surface water chemical status in accordance with the provisions and objectives of Article 4 of that Directive. This Directive updates a wide variety of previous Directives. For full details see Water Policy and Repealed Directives (PDF document).

Risk based regulation for organisations with discharge consents: The Environment Agency has indicated that it intends to introduce a new regime for England and Wales to ‘modernise’ discharge consents. After consultation it is intended to introduce a regime based on Operator Pollution Risk Appraisal (OPRA) and more self monitoring. The new regime dates are yet to be finalised.
SEPA Consultation:

SEPA has issued Consultation Guidance about ‘Control of Priority and Dangerous Substances and Specific Pollutants in the Water Environment’. This relates to the cessation of use or phasing out of priority hazardous substances under the Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC).

DEFRA permits:

DEFRA has confirmed that water discharge consents, abstraction licences and groundwater authorisations under the WFD are to be regulated under the streamlined environmental permitting regime, which came into force on 6 April 2008.

Environmental Liability Directive 2004/35/EC: The Environmental Liability Directive was adopted in 2004 and was required to be implemented by 30 April 2007. The Directive enforces strict liability for prevention and remediation of environmental damage to ‘biodiversity’, water and land from specified activities and remediation of environmental damage for all other activities through fault or negligence. The Environmental Liability Directive is now implemented in England and Wales. In Scotland The Environmental Liability (Scotland) Regulations 2009 came into force on 24 June 2009. Following the Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 and the European Commission’s communication “Facing the challenge of the safety of offshore oil and gas activities” (published in October 2010), the EU Directive on the “Safety of Offshore Oil and Gas Operations” was published on 28 June 2013 (Directive 2013/30/EU (PDF document)).