The Water Framework Directive requires certain protections for areas of land that supply drinking water (Drinking Water Protection Areas), as well as areas that fall under the protection of other directives. These areas include nutrient-sensitive areas, including areas identified as Nitrate Vulnerable Zones under the Nitrates Directive or areas designated as sensitive under Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (UWWTD). These protected areas need to be included in river basin management plans.

Under the Water Resources Act 1991, the Secretary of State also has the power to designate Water Protection Zones (WPZs).

The designation of protected areas affect farmers and other businesses that could pollute the water environment. If your business operates in a protected area there may be limits or controls on activities that can be carried out or authorisation may be required.

In our other topics, we cover generic powers available to the authorities to protect our water resources. However, specific additional powers can be used to target areas where water resources are at risk from particular issues. A wide variety of area types exist to address specific problems some of which may overlap. For example, the provisions on Nitrate Vulnerable Zones affect farmers, who must restrict the input of nitrates to soil and water, but the same area may also be designated as a Nutrient Sensitive Area.

The provisions on nutrient sensitive areas affect water companies, which must remove nitrates and phosphates from the water they treat.

Much of our modern water protection legislation is derived from EU directives. However, as the requirements of the Directives are already established in the UK statute book, they remain in place as retained EU law.

Going forward, protection of the water environment has been included in the non-regression clause of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement which requires that the UK does not weaken environmental legislation “in a manner affecting trade or investment”.

Domestic policy and future legislation under the Environment Bill also includes provisions to protect water quality.

The 25 Year Environment Plan introduced new farming rules for water in 2018 to reduce water pollution from agriculture and required that the UK’s National Action Plan for the Sustainable Use of Pesticides was reviewed. The Environment Bill includes provision for a new Office for Environmental Protection, will include at least one long-standing target to improve the water environment, and includes new provisions to reduce abstraction where it is causing damage.

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