Now with added protection

Kevin Stanley looks at the new regulations for the prevention and control of groundwater pollution in England and Wales, and notes that businesses bound by the old rules are unlikely to notice that much of a difference

The protection of groundwater is the focus of a directive introduced by the EC in 2006. The Groundwater Directive (GwD) is an offshoot of the Water Framework Directive (WFD). It clarifies objectives of the WFD relating to prevention and control of groundwater pollution.

Groundwater makes up about 20% of the world’s freshwater supply. In England, about 33% of the public water supply comes from groundwater.

Its recovery time is much longer than that of surface waters, and remediation for certain contaminated groundwater can be disproportionately costly. Article 6 of the new GwD concerns “measures to prevent or limit inputs of pollutants into groundwater”. It needs to be implemented in 2008 to meet with the

WFD timetable.

In May 2008, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) launched a consultation paper on the transposition of article 6 of the Groundwater Directive (2006/118/EC) in England and Wales.

The paper makes specific proposals for the transposition of article 6 of the directive through amendment of the Groundwater Regulations 1998. Defra says the proposed changes are somewhat complex but that ultimately they would cover a slightly wider range of substances.

Overall costs
Defra states that anyone who discharges substances that can give rise to groundwater pollution – or who are currently regulated under the Groundwater Regulations 1998 – will have an interest in these proposals. But the impact for most people should be minimal, and overall costs are expected to be neutral.

Ofwat welcomed Defra’s proposals to introduce measures to prevent inputs of any hazardous substances to groundwater.

Kevin Ridout, Ofwat’s interim head of quality enhancement, said: “Overall, we believe that the amended regulations should provide better protection for groundwater.”

Ridout also noted the capital cost of groundwater protection: “Measures to protect groundwater quality can be expensive,” he said.

Historically, there has been a tendency to focus on large industries as being more likely to cause significant groundwater impacts. But there have been legal cases in England that highlight the risks of local groundwater pollution posed by small industrial concerns.

Ridout said: “Developments that pose an unacceptable risk to the quality of groundwater should be assessed at the planning stage and, if necessary, modified or even rejected.”

So will the amended regulations be strong enough to successfully meet the requirements of protecting groundwater? The EA says that the new regulations will allow it to enhance its risk- based regulatory approach, and work more efficiently with businesses to protect groundwater.

Cath Tomlin, policy advisor at the Environment Agency (EA), said: “As with the existing regulations, the new regulations should contain provisions for permitting certain activities. There must also be powers for us to serve notice prohibiting or controlling activities where there is no deliberate discharge.”

The EA believes the new regulations will have little immediate impact on business.

Tomlin says: “Most of the businesses already affected by the existing groundwater regulations are unlikely to notice much change, certainly in terms of additional burdens. Current government proposals are to include the Groundwater Regulations in The Environmental Permitting Programme from October 2009.

“This simple, unified system of permitting has already reduced the burden on industry. We believe this will also be the case for those businesses that need Groundwater Regulations Authorisations.”

Pollution prevention

Tomlin gave guidance on how businesses are best advised to abide by the new regulations: “The best approach is pollution prevention, as this generally saves money – less wastage, less storage problems, no clean-up costs, no fines – and improves company reputation.”

The joint Defra/Welsh Assembly Government consultation has only recently come to an end. No formal statement has yet been issued.

In the meantime, businesses that wish to find out if they are likely to be affected by the regulations should contact either the EA or Defra directly for more information. Both departments’ websites also contain further information about the new regulations.

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