Liz Truss continues as UK DEFRA Secretary

Welcoming the continuation of Rt Hon Liz Truss MP as Secretary of State for UK Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

DEFRA is a large UK government department responsible for policy and regulations on environmental, food and rural issues, covering:

* the natural environment, biodiversity, plants and animals 

* sustainable development and the green economy 

* food, farming and fisheries 

* animal health and welfare 

* environmental protection and pollution control 

* rural communities and issues 

DEFRA only works directly in England, by concordat works closely with the devolved administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and generally leads on negotiations in the EU and internationally.

DEFRA’s work and priorities are delivered by 35 separate agencies and public bodies, listed here.

  

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.

Italy persistent Drinking Water breaches (EU legal proceedings)

The European Commission is opening infringement proceedings against Italy for its failure to ensure that water intended for human consumption meets European standards. Water contamination from arsenic and fluoride is a long-standing problem in Italy, and for the Latium Region in particular.

Under the Drinking Water Directive, Member States have to monitor and test water used for human consumption using 48 microbiological, chemical and indicator parameters.

If high levels of arsenic or other pollutants are found, Member States may derogate from the thresholds established by the directive for a limited period of time, provided there is no potential danger to human health, and provided the supply for human consumption cannot be maintained by any other reasonable means. Italy has now run out of derogation time.

The limit value for arsenic and fluoride is still not respected in 37 water supply zones in Latium. On the recommendation of Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik, the Commission is sending (10 July 2014) a letter of formal notice to Italy, the first formal stage in infringement proceedings.

Arsenic is a naturally occurring semi-metal element which is tasteless and odourless, and can enter drinking water supplies from natural deposits in the earth. Elevated levels in water can cause serious health problems, including skin damage, circulatory problems, and an increased risk of cancer.

Further information on EU drinking water legislation is found here.

New Water Act 2014 (England & Wales)

The Water Act 2014 received Royal Assent on 14 May 2014, and amends the Water Industry Act 1991.

The purpose of the 2014 Act is to reform the water industry to make it more innovative and responsive to customers and to increase the resilience of water supplies to natural hazards such as drought and floods.

Amongst the main measures for the water sector are:

– enabling all business, charity and public sector customers in England to switch their water and sewerage supplier
– establishing a cross-border arrangement with Scotland
– enabling businesses to provide new sources of water or sewerage treatment services
– developing a national water supply network by making it easier for water companies to buy and sell water from each other
– enabling owners of small-scale water storage to sell excess water into the public supply
– enabling ministers to set the level to which a water company needs to plan to cope with droughts
– enabling developers and new water or sewage companies to connect new building developments to the water mains and sewerage system.

The Act also includes additional measures:

– providing measures to restore the sustainable abstraction of water
improving the way water resource management and drought planning are managed
– providing powers to streamline the environmental permitting framework which enables operators to apply for a single rather than multiple permits with the inclusion of licensing schemes for water abstraction and impounding, fish passes and flood defence consents
– encouraging the use of Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) by clarifying that building and maintenance of SuDS can be a function of sewerage undertakers
– transferring the responsibility for maintaining main river maps to the Environment Agency and the Natural Resources Body for Wales.

The Act and Explanatory Notes are found here.

The Act and Explanatory Notes are here on the legislation.gov.uk website.

The Act extensively amends the Water Industry Act 1991 – subscribers to Cardinal Tailored EHS Legislation Registers will have the re consolidated Water Industry Act 1991 uploaded to their websystems shortly.

Various dates apply to commencement, and Cardinal green text will make this clear in the re consolidated Water Industry Act 1991.

New Clean Water Act Definition of “Waters of the US” (US)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers jointly released 26th March a proposed rule to clarify protection under the federal Clean Water Act for streams and wetlands.

My 2013 post on this is here.

The proposed definitions of waters will apply to all Clean Water Act programs. No new types of waters that have not historically been covered under the Clean Water Act will be encompassed, consistent with the US Supreme Court’s more narrow reading of Clean Water Act jurisdiction.

– Most seasonal and rain-dependent streams will continue to be protected.
– Wetlands near rivers and streams will continue to be protected.

Other types of waters that may have more uncertain connections with downstream water will be evaluated through a case specific analysis of whether the connection is or is not significant. However, to provide more certainty, the proposal requests comment on options protecting similarly situated waters in certain geographic areas or adding to the categories of waters protected without case specific analysis.

The proposed rule preserves existing Clean Water Act exemptions and exclusions for agriculture. Additionally, EPA and the Army Corps have coordinated with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to develop an interpretive rule to ensure that 56 specific conservation practices that protect or improve water quality will not be subject to Section 404 dredged or fill permitting requirements. The agencies will work together to implement these new exemptions and periodically review, and update USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service conservation practice standards and activities that would qualify under the exemption. Any agriculture activity that does not result in the discharge of a pollutant to waters of the U.S. still does not require a permit.

Further information is found here and here.

Danish River Basin Plans (EU legal proceedings)

The European Commission is taking Denmark to the EU Court of Justice for a failure to present plans for managing its river basins. These plans are essential to put the measures in place to achieve the objective of ‘good status’ for Danish waters by 2015 and should have been adopted before December 2009. Press Release.

Under the EU Water Framework Directive, Member States must publish a management plan for each river basin district under their control, with Member States that share international rivers working together to produce a single international river basin management plan. The public and other interested parties must be consulted on such plans, which are then published in draft form, allowing six months for comments in writing. The plans had to be sent to the Commission in 2010.

Denmark missed the original deadline for submitting its plans, and the Commission opened an infringement procedure. Denmark then adopted the required plans in 2012. Shortly after their adoption however, the Danish Courts found that the consultation period set by the authorities for comments on the draft plans had been too short under Danish law, and the plans were therefore annulled.

This led to a situation in which, several years after the deadline, Denmark still had no river basin management plans in place. The Commission therefore re-opened the infringement procedure and Denmark confirmed in December 2013, the absence of management plans, noting that adoption was unlikely before mid-2014. The case is therefore being referred to the Court.