A1 A2 A3 A4

Law search

Water Pollution Legislation

This page provides an overview of specific laws on water pollution. Please note that the list is not meant to be exhaustive. At the national level, it primarily addresses the legal position in England, Scotland and Wales. Other laws may apply in Northern Ireland and we recommend that you seek further legal advice to ensure that any action taken is in within the law.


International legislation deals mostly with marine pollution. The law search in our Marine section lists relevant laws. Other laws are listed here.

The Convention of the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes 1992

UN Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses 1997

1999 Protocol on Water and Health to the 1992 Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes

Protocol on Preparedness, Response and Co-operation to Pollution Incidents by Hazardous and Noxious Substances, 2000 (OPRC-HNS Protocol)

2003 Protocol on Civil Liability and Compensation for Damage Caused by the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents on Transboundary Waters to the 1992 Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes

Amendments to Articles 25 and 26 of the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes 2004

How will leaving the EU change things?


Environmental laws that come from Europe will continue to apply for the time being.


Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive 91/271/EEC
Improves water quality by regulating the treatment and discharge of waste water from industrial and household sources.
Nitrates Directive 91/676/EEC
Requires action to be taken to reduce water pollution caused by nitrates released from agricultural sources.
Drinking Water Directive 98/83/EC
Sets out standards to make drinking water safe for human consumption.
Water Framework Directive 2000/60/EC
Establishes a legal framework for protecting rivers, lakes, estuaries, inland coastal waters and groundwater bodies across Europe. It requires EU member states to aim to achieve "good status" in all water bodies by 2015, unless circumstances justify setting lower standards or extending the deadline.
Groundwater Directive 2006/118/EC
Sets out a regulatory framework for protecting groundwater against pollution and deterioration.
Bathing Water Directive 2006/7/EC
Requires members states to monitor and manage the quality of bathing water and give information to the public about it.
Marine Strategy Framework Directive 2008/56/EC
Establishes a framework for EU member states to take action to achieve 'good environmental status' in Europe's seas by 2020. UK legislation giving effect to the directive is due by July 2010. Standards defining 'good environmental status' will be set by each member state for their own seas by 2012.
Directive on Environmental Quality Standards 2008/105/EC (the 'Priority Substances Directive')
Sets surface water concentration standards for certain priority substances (substances that are particularly toxic and that accumulate in the water environment) and other pollutants, and requires member states to keep inventories of emissions.

England and Wales

Water Resources Act 1991
Consolidated existing water legislation. Regulated water quality and prevention of water pollution. Created water pollution offences based on the polluter pays principle. Much of this is now covered by the Environmental Permitting Regulations.
Water Industry Act 1991
Regulates water and sewerage industries and lays out the legislative provisions in relation to discharge consents to sewers.
Environment Act 1995
Establishes the Environment Agency which unites the HMIP and NRA and assumes water regulation enforcement functions. Sections 41 and 42 allow for charges to be introduced for discharge consents.
Water Act 2003
Modernises the regulation of water resources. Regulates water abstraction and impoundment. Water conservation a key focus. From2013, the Environment Agency would be able to amend or revoke the licenses of water abstractors who cause serious damage to the environment.
The Water Environment (Water Framework Directive) (England and Wales) Regulations 2003
Gives effect to the European Water Framework Directive in England and Wales. Scotland and Northern Ireland also have equivalent regulations. Introduces a system of river basin management planning with the general aim of achieving good status of surface and ground waters by 2015.
The Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009
Introduces a new framework for managing the many demands placed on the sea, improving marine conservation and opening up access for the public to the English coast.
Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010
Create a system for regulating polluting activities through environmental permits. Set out water pollution offences. Environmental permits replace former water discharge consents and groundwater authorisations.
Water Act 2014
Introduces reforms to the water industry that aim to make it more innovative and responsive, and to increase resilience to hazards such as flooding and drought. Also paves the way for a new scheme for insuring homes in areas of high flood risk.


The Water Environment and Water Services (Scotland) Act 2003
Implements the terms of the European Water Framework Directive into Scots Law
Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Regulations 2005
Replaces the Control of Pollution Act 1974 as the principal legislation controlling polluting discharges, and introduces controls on water abstraction, impoundment and engineering activities.
Marine (Scotland) Act 2010
Introduces a framework for the sustainable management of the seas around Scotland, out to 12 nautical miles.
Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Regulations 2011
Consolidates amendments made to the 2005 Regulations, and introduces new procedures for environmental impact assessment of high-risk activities and for accelerated authorisation in emergency situations.

UKELA is not responsible for the content of external internet sites