Control and Prevention of Water Pollution

Waterway to go

Law and regulation is the main way that authorities attempt to control or prevent the environmental problem of water pollution.

International water pollution legislation

International conventions are mainly concerned with marine pollution. The dumping of waste at sea (marine dumping) is prohibited by these conventions and such things as oil spillages are regulated. Though international law may have played a part in preventing some pollution to the earth’s oceans, there is still massive amounts of waste material floating, sinking and swirling through the no longer completely blue waters that cover 70% of the earth’s surface. Examples of this type of international law are:

  • The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973, as modified by the Protocol of 1978 (MARPOL 73/78)
  • International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Cooperation, 1990 (OPRC)
  • International Convention on Liability and Compensation for Damage in Connection with the Carriage of Hazardous and Noxious Substances (HNS) by Sea
  • Protocol on Preparedness, Response and Co-operation to Pollution Incidents by Hazardous and Noxious Substances, 2000 (OPRC-HNS Protocol
  • The International Convention on the Control of Harmful Anti-fouling Systems on Ships
  • Nairobi International Convention on the Removal of Wrecks, 2007

EC Legislation for controlling water pollution

Since the 1970s the UK's attempt to control water pollution in its own borders has been heavily influenced by the policy from the European Community. The First Action Programme on the Environment in 1973 stated that water pollution is a major concern. These are the pieces of legislation that have been set out since:

  • Dangerous Substances in Water Directive 76/464 (to be fully repealed in 2013 by Water Framework Directive)
  • Agricultural Nitrates Directive 91/676
  • Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive 91/271
  • The Water Framework Directive 2000/60/EC
  • The Marine Strategy Framework Directive 2008/56/EC

UK Legislation to prevent water pollution

The first environmental law regulating water pollution is from the Late Middle Ages and 1388, which made it illegal to dispose of animal waste, dung and litter in rivers. A large gap in protection of the rivers then ensued until the nineteenth century brought us the River Pollution Prevention Act 1876. The River Boards Act 1948 created authoritative bodies known as river boards who had powers to control water supply and sewage.

The River (Prevention of Pollution) Acts of 1951 and ’61 cohered the laws for protecting river from pollution, whilst the Control of Pollution Act 1974 helped to strengthen the laws that aimed to prevent water pollution.

Come the Water Act 1989 the National Rivers Authority was created to control and regulate the aspects of the waterways in England that dealt with pollution. This was abolished in 1995 with the Environment Act and the Environment Agency, dealing with all aspects of the environment, was formed the next year. There were also established equivalent bodies in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Regarding specific laws the Water Resources Act 1991 consolidated what already existed. This made it an offence to discharge anything into a river without a permit from the Environment Agency or one of its equivalent bodies in Scotland and Northern Ireland. The main principle established in this act is that the polluter pays for the damage that the material they released into the waterways has done.

The Waters Act 2003 is the latest piece of legislation concerning the UK’s rivers and canals. The major developments heralded by this act are to ensure that water companies conserve water and to give the Environment Agency the power to alter or revoke the licence of a water abstraction company who harm the environment.

The Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 is the latest piece of legislation to protect the UK’s waters generally. It includes provisions to safeguard the British coastal environment.

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