Sewage disposal—discharges from sewers and drains
Produced in partnership with John Bates of Old Square Chambers
Sewage disposal—discharges from sewers and drains

The following Environment practice note produced in partnership with John Bates of Old Square Chambers provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • Sewage disposal—discharges from sewers and drains
  • Right to discharge
  • Environmental permits for discharges
  • Unlawful discharges
  • Liability for discharges from other undertakers
  • Defence of unlawful discharge into the sewer
  • Environmental permits
  • Discharge quality conditions
  • Exemptions from permits
  • Discharges to surface waters
  • More...

Sewage disposal—discharges from sewers and drains

Right to discharge

A sewerage undertaker does not have statutory power under the Water Industry Act 1991 (WIA 1991) to discharge water or other matter from its drainage pipes onto the land or into the waters of others. Accordingly, any discharge now made by a sewerage undertaker without the permission of a relevant land owner constitutes a trespass.

However, when sewerage services were operated by public bodies, those bodies did have an implied right to discharge by virtue of the Public Health Act 1875 and Public Health Act 1936. Thus discharges made before 1st December 1991—the date the relevant provisions in the Water Industry Act 1991 (WIA 1991) came into force—remain lawful. For more information, see News Analysis:What facts define the cause of action in trespass? (Manchester Ship Canal Company Ltd v United Utilities Water Ltd).

The right to continue to make a pre-existing discharge is limited by section WIA 1991, ss 117(5) & (6), which prohibits discharges that cause pollution or the causing of a nuisance and WIA 1991, s 186(3), which prohibits the injurious affection of watercourses etc or the supply, quality or fall of water contained therein.

Environmental permits for discharges

Unlawful discharges

A discharge of trade or sewage effluent is a ‘water discharge activity’ if made into surface waters—and a ‘groundwater activity’ if made into groundwater—for the purposes of the

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