Legal action on the horizon over UK wastewater failures

THE UK faces legal action from the European Commission over failures in its collection and treatment of wastewater.

Around 17 localities were highlighted by a Court referral in late March. They were deemed to be falling short of EU standards, presenting a possible threat to human health and the quality of inland waters and the marine environment.


The Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive puts the onus on member states to ensure that agglomerations such as towns and cities properly collect and treat their urban waste water. Untreated waste water can contain harmful bacteria and nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous,  which can cause eutrophication in freshwater and marineenvironments.

One of the problems highlighted by the case relates to excessive spills from storm water overflows in collecting systems serving the towns of Llanelli and Gowerton on the west coast of Wales. Innovative and environmentally positive sustainable urban drainage solutions are now being implemented to improve the situation, according to the CIWM Journal.

In four of the agglomerations in question (Banchory, Stranraer, Ballycastle, and Clacton), treatment has been appraised as inadequate, and one agglomeration, Gibraltar (a British Overseas Territory) has no treatment plant at all.

Dating back to 1991, EU legislation on urban waste water treatment required member states to put in place stringent treatment of wastewater from agglomerations discharging into sensitive areas, and to achieve this by 1998.

A deadline of 2000 was in place for ensuring appropriate treatment from large agglomerations discharging into undesignated waters. And member states had until the end of 2005 to put in place systems to deal with discharges from medium-sized agglomerations and discharges to freshwater and estuaries from small agglomerations. The Commission is also taking the UK to Court for failing to reduce emissions at one of its coal-fired power stations.