Water pollution—potential liabilities
Produced in partnership with ELM Law
Water pollution—potential liabilities

The following Environment practice note produced in partnership with ELM Law provides comprehensive and up to date legal information covering:

  • Water pollution—potential liabilities
  • Water pollution
  • Definitions of water
  • Water pollution offences
  • Environmental permitting regime
  • Offences
  • What is a water discharge activity?
  • What is a groundwater activity?
  • Penalties
  • Defences
  • More...

Water pollution—potential liabilities

Water pollution

Water pollution can kill fish and aquatic life, impact drinking supplies, reduce water quality and pollute beaches.

There are many type of pollutants that can enter water—chemicals, petrol, oils, fats, ammonia in sewage, mine waste, nitrates from agriculture and solid waste.

Definitions of water

Controlled watersRelevant territorial waters (seawater out to three nautical miles)
Coastal waters (eg tidal waters)
Inland freshwaters (rivers, streams, watercourses, lakes and ponds)
Groundwaters (water stored in rock layers beneath the soil)
section 104 of the Water Resources Act 1991 (WRA 1991)
Surface waterInland waters (all standing or flowing water on the surface of the land, except groundwater)
Transitional waters (partly saline estuarine waters that are substantially influenced by freshwater flows)
Coastal waters (water up to one mile seaward)
The Water Environment (Water Framework Directive) (England and Wales) Regulations 2017, SI 2017/407, Sch 1
Water Framework Directive
GroundwaterAll water that is below the surface of the ground in the saturation zone and in direct contact with the ground or subsoilThe Water Environment (Water Framework Directive) (England and Wales) Regulations 2017, SI 2017/407, Sch 1
Water Framework Directive

Water pollution offences

The following legislation imposes water pollution offences:

  1. Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2016 (EPR 2016), SI 2016/1154

  2. WRA 1991

  3. Part IIA of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (EPA 1990)

  4. Environmental Damage (Prevention and Remediation) (England) Regulations 2015, SI 2015/810 in England and the

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