Environmental Legislation Website This Page Last Updated 29 December, 2014

Groundwater Protection

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Legislation Back to Top
Key Legislation
  • Groundwater Directive (80/68/EEC); aims to protect groundwater from pollution by controlling discharges and disposals of certain dangerous substances to groundwater.

The groundwater directive categorises polluting substances into two lists based on toxicity, persistence and potential for bioaccumulation. List 1 substances are considered to carry higher potential risks from pollution. Entry of List 1 substances to groundwater is prohibited. Entry of List II substances to groundwater should be limited to a level which will not result in pollution of groundwater.

NB: under the terms of the Water Framework Directive (see below) the groundwater directive will be repealed in 2013.

The WFD takes a holistic view of the protection of the water environment. It sets out a spatial categorisation of groundwater into groundwater management units and provides the framework for the classification of these units into either good or poor water quality status. The WFD also sets key targets in respect of the groundwater resource. These include:ensuring no deterioration in status; restoring poor status units to good status (where feasibly and economically possible); controlling entry of pollutants to groundwater; reversing existing upward trends of pollutants in groundwater and introducing control regimes for abstraction

These regulations provide SEPA with the authority to serve (an) enforcement notice(s) either to control or to stop an activity which poses a significant risk to the water environment and/or which may cause discharge to groundwater of any substances listed in the CAR Regulations (Schedules 1 or 2). The 2011 Regulations increased the number of controlled activities which can be carried out under general binding rules.

Supporting Legislation

In addition to these, the recently enacted Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010 implements the Groundwater Directive in England and Wales and provides a consolidated system for environmental permits and exemptions for inter alia water discharge activities and groundwater activities.

These regulations aim to protect the water environment from accidental loss or spillage of oil.

These regulations set out the requirements for building control authorisation for the construction of soakaways for sewage discharges.

Amended the 2009/254 Regulations in order to transpose in greater detail some provisions of the Groundwater Daughter Directive 2006/118/EC, which came into force on the 31st July 2014.

Guidance Notes

Advisory Groups for implementation of both the Groundwater Directives and the Water Framework Directive exist within the UK:

The Environment Agency (EA) has statutory responsiblity to protect groundwater resources in England and Wales. Groundwater Protection: Policy and Practice (GP3) provides a framework to allow the EA to achieve this. The Policy works alongside defined Groundwater Source Protection Zones, in order to identify and protect sensitive groundwater resource. The licensing regime in England an Wales has most recently been updated by the Environmental Permitting Guidance: Core Guidance for the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010.

In Scotland the responsbility to protect the groundwater resource lies with SEPA. SEPA (2009): Groundwater Protection Policy for Scotland v3: Nov 2009 Env Pol No 19 provides the framework for SEPA to achieve this. Other guidance applicable within Scotland includes:

Consent Needed and How to Obtain It Back to Top
Consent Needed

Consents for storage and handling of chemicals, including hydrocarbons, will be required under the PPC Regime or under the Waste Management Licensing Regime. Conditions specifically relating to protection of groundwater may be set.

The CAR Regulations require discharges of industrial and commercial effluents to be authorised by SEPA.

The CAR Regulations also require all surface water discharges from developments constructed after 1st April 2006 to be drained to Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SUDS). Building Control Authorisation will also be required for construction of soakaway for sewage discharges.

In England, consent may be required under Part H of the Building Regulations 2010 for discharges to groundwater through the construction of Soakaway systems.

How to Apply

Further details are available through the links above

Who to Apply to

Further details are available through the links above

When to Apply Further details are available through the links above
Performance Standards Back to Top

Various – see individual legislative requirements

Sampling/Monitoring Requirements Back to Top
Inspections and Monitoring

EA and SEPA regulated activities will be subject to appropriate inspections and monitoring, the requirements of which are driven by the legislation under which the activity is regulated.

Guidance on How to comply with your environmental permitting requirements has been published by the EA.

Reporting Requirements Back to Top
What to Report

Various – see individual legislative requirements.

Who to Report to

Various – see individual legislative requirements.

When to Report

Various – see individual legislative requirements.

Non Compliance Back to Top
Environment Agency:Civil Sanctions On Jan 4th 2011 the Environment Agency will begin using new civil sanctions to take action that is proportionate to the offence and the offender, and reflect the fact that most offences committed by businesses are unintentional.

What to do if in Breach of Consent

Contact EA / SEPA in the first instance.

SEPA as Scotland's primary environmental regulator has a duty to ensure compliance with the various sets of legislation for which it has responsibility. Enforcement may take the form of:
• Discussion and promoting good practice;
• Formal advisory letters
• Final warning letters
• Final enforcement/prohibition notices;
• Enforcing compliance with environmental licences and permits;
• Seeking prosecution for breaches of environmental legislation through the Procurator Fiscal (Scotland)

Further details on SEPA's Policy on Enforcement are available through the SEPA website.

Guidance on EA approach to enforcement is also available through the EA website

Renewal and Variation Back to Top
Renewal and Variation Renewal and variation of licences and permits in relation to discharges to groundwater should be sought through EA/SEPA in the first instance.
Pending Legislation Back to Top
Pending Legislation Under the terms of the WFD (2000), the Groundwater Directive will be repealed in 2013. Groundwater Daughter Directive 2006/118/EC will replace Lists I and II of the GWD and instead apply to all pollutants categorising them as hazardous or non-hazardous substances.
Water Framework Directive COM(2011)876 is proposed to amend the Water Framework Directive and the Directive on Environmental Quality Standards (Directive 2008/105/EC). It will include, amongst other things, a revised list of priority substances, adding 15 to the directive, 6 of which will be designated as priority hazardous substances.
Proposals for an Integrated Framework of Environmental Regulation

The proposals outlined by SEPA will deliver a simpler legislative framework which will enable SEPA to focus greatest effort on the environmental problems that matter most. It will provide a more consistent range of enforcement tools so that, proportionate and effective action can be taken against those who would damage the environment. The consultation that has been undertaken built on previous consultations focusing on changes to the structure of environmental protection legislation in order to create a new, integrated framework for the permissions (licences, permits, rules etc) which will be used to control activities which could harm the environment.

Snippets Back to Top

Underground Drilling Access

In September 2014, DECC published a response to the consultation on the proposal for underground access for the extraction of gas, oil or geothermal energy. Further details are accessible from the DECC website.


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