The Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) is to carry out an investigation into the roles of Ofwat, the Environment Agency and the Secretary of State for DEFRA in the regulation of combined sewer overflows (CSOs) in England.
OEP said: “The aims of the investigation are to determine whether these authorities have failed to comply with their respective duties in relation to the regulation, including the monitoring and enforcement, of water companies’ own duties to manage sewage. In doing so, we will seek to clarify the respective duties.
“Further, if there are found to be failures, our objective will be to improve regulation, leading to long term improvement in water quality.”
OEP’s Chief Regulatory Officer Helen Venn said: “Unsatisfactory water quality is an important, longstanding, systemic issue and one of the most pressing environmental concerns at this time.
“This is a complex area and there is already a great deal of work underway to try and tackle the problem of untreated sewage in our rivers. Our investigation will contribute to that work by providing clarity about the legal responsibilities of the different bodies involved to ensure measures to tackle the problems can be targeted and effective.”
Venn added: “We clearly do not know at this point what our findings will be or where the investigation will take us. It is possible that it could result in enforcement activity and / or in broader actions to improve the legal and / or regulatory systems. Our priority throughout will be to protect and improve the environment.”
The investigation follows a complaint submitted to the Interim OEP by Salmon & Trout Conservation UK.
The investigation is a Statutory Investigation under s 33 Environment Act 2021. Under s 33 Environment Act 2021, OEP has powers to carry out an investigation into whether a public authority has complied with environmental law. Public bodies, including the Secretary of State, have a statutory duty to cooperate with OEP and provide it with such reasonably assistance as it requests. An investigation may lead to enforcement action by OEP.