New proposals to change the way that businesses, industries and organisations that discharge into rivers and coastal waters are regulated were announced today by the Environment Agency.


“Our proposals will affect the hundreds of companies, organisations and individuals that between them hold around 110,000 permits to discharge effluent into our rivers and coastal waters. We want to introduce a more flexible system where risk is used when considering the level of regulation needed,” Jim Gray, Head of Regulatory Development for the Environment Agency, said.


“Under these new proposals our efforts will be focussed on those 6,000 permits which pose the biggest risk based on factors such as the sensitivity of the water they discharge to, the types of treatment processes they use and the pollutants discharged, and how well operators manage their activities. 


“However, we want to hear your views on this. The consultation on these proposals announced today offer a real opportunity for business to put forward their ideas for better regulation and to demonstrate how their good business management justifies reduced regulation by us. This is at the heart of encouraging operators to take more responsibility for reducing their impact on the environment.”


Currently any operator who discharges effluent to a river, lake, estuary or directly to the sea has to obtain consent from the Environment Agency do so. The consent limits the amount of effluent they can discharge. Operators who hold permits cover a wide range of industries and organisations from water companies to food and drink manufacturers.


Currently some operators may receive a lot of regulatory attention, solely due to being large in size even though their activities may actually pose a low risk to the environment.


The consultation has two parts:


1.       To better understand and measure environmental risk by applying our Operator and Pollution Risk Appraisal (OPRA) risk appraisal scheme, which is already used in other industries such as in the waste sector on landfill sites;

2.       To improve the way we monitor permits that companies and organisations currently hold. This would mean using a number of different methods, including introducing some self monitoring by operators, without putting the environment at increased risk.


“These proposals are in keeping with our role as a modern, flexible regulator – encouraging operators to protect the environment, taking tough action on those who don’t, and rewarding those who do by freeing them up from regulation and helping them reduce costs.”


The consultation issued today runs from 5th December 2006 to 27th February 2007.


Views are being sought in particular from operators, who hold consents to discharge to the water environment under the Water Resources Act 1991 on both proposals and from those stakeholders who have an interest in environmental water quality.


More information can be found at