Wastewater Treatment: UK Referred to European Court

26th March 2015: the European Commission referred the UK the Court of Justice of the European Union over its failure to ensure that urban waste water is adequately treated in 17 agglomerations (European Urban Wastewater Directive). In the EU, Member States need adequate collection and treatment systems for urban waste water, as untreated water poses risks to human health, inland waters and the marine environment. The EU has taken legal action against the UK, and other member states, repeatedly for breaches of the European Urban Wastewater Directive. 

In four of the agglomerations in question in this 2015 action (Banchory, Stranraer, Ballycastle, and Clacton), treatment is inadequate, and one agglomeration, Gibraltar, has no treatment plant at all. In ten other agglomerations, where the waste water discharges into sensitive areas such as freshwaters and estuaries, the existing treatment fails to meet the more stringent standards required for such areas. The areas concerned are Lidsey, Tiverton, Durham (Barkers Haugh), Chester-le-Street, Winchester Central and South (Morestead), Islip, Broughton Astley, Chilton (also known as Windlestone), Witham and Chelmsford.

EU legislation on urban waste water treatment dates back to 1991, with long lead times for the implementation deadlines. Member States had until the end of 1998 to ensure stringent treatment for wastewater from agglomerations discharging into sensitive areas. They had until the end of 2000 to ensure appropriate treatment from large agglomerations discharging into undesignated waters and until the end of 2005 for discharges from medium-sized agglomerations and discharges to freshwater and estuaries from small agglomerations.

The case also concerns excessive spills from storm water overflows in collecting systems serving the agglomerations of Llanelli and Gowerton. Innovative and environmentally positive sustainable urban drainage solutions are now being implemented to improve the situation. However the current spill rates are still too high and compliance is not foreseen before 2020. The deadline for having in place compliant collecting systems for these agglomerations was end 2000.

This post will be updated as developments occur.

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