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Water Act 1989 (Chapter 15).

Type of law
Date of original text

The Water Act 1989 sanctioned a major shift in the policy of the government towards severing the public utility function from the comprehensive scope of water management authority of the Regional Water Authorities operating in England and Wales, and entrusting it with limited public companies. The regulatory functions hitherto vested in the said authorities, augmented by the addition of regulatory functions with respect to navigation, river conservancy and harbours are vested in a National Rivers Authority. As a result, the ten Regional Water Authorities which had come into being by virtue of the 1973 Water Act will be phased out. The new institutional set-up for the management of water resources in England and Wales is complemented by Regional Rivers Advisory Committees to be established by the National Rivers Authority in an advisory capacity to it. A separate committee for Wales is to be set up by the Secretary of State with respect to that particular region. (Part I, secs. 1 to 4). In addition, local flood defence committees are to carry out land drainage and flood defence functions under the supervision of the National Rivers Authority (sects. 136-137). Local and regional fisheries committees can be set up by the Authority, with advisory functions (sect. 141).
Part II of the Act, sections 11 to 102 makes detailed provisions for the organization and functioning of the new water and sewerage utility companies, and for the provision of relevant services. Part III, sections 103 to 150, contains substantive provisions on pollution control, drought management, flood defence, inland fisheries, and navigation, conservancy and harbours. With respect to pollution control, the core of water pollution controls continue to rest on a consent system for regulating discharges of effluents into waters based on ambient quality objectives. However, the 1989 statute tightens this system by granting government power to establish statutory - as opposed to purely administrative - water quality objectives relating to different classes of waters, including a target date for meeting the objectives. In addition, these statutory water quality objectives must now be placed in the already existing waste discharge consents registers alongside consent details and sampling results, thus providing the public with a transparent link beween the regulator's goals and actual performance. The new statute also makes provision for the control of diffuse pollution. In addition to empowering the Secretay of State for the Environment to designate Water Protection Zones where specified activities may be restricted or prohibited, the Act also empowers the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to designate Nitrate Sensitive Areas.
With regard to these areas, the statute provides no more than a broad framework that gives government maximum administrative flexibility to deal with the pollution problems of a particular designated area. In particular, the designating authority may provide for compensation of farmers who incur financial losses due to their new obligation within a designated area. Under Part V of the Act, the bulk of the pollution control provisions have been extended to Scotland. The balance of the Act, consisting of Parts IV, V and VI - sections 151 to 194 - deal respectively with general powers in relation to land and works, provisions relating to Scotland, and miscellaneous matters. The statute is complemented by 27 Schedules.
Long title of text
An Act to provide for the establishment and functions of a National Rivers Authority and of committees to advise that Autrhority; to provide for the transfer of property, rights and liabilities of water authorities to the National Rivers Authority and to companies nominated by the Secretary of State and for the dissolution of those authorities; to provide for the appointment and functions of Director General of Water Services and the customer service committees; to provide for the companies to be appointed to be water undertakers and sewerage undertakers and for the regulation of the appointed companies; to make provision with respect to, and the finances of, nominated companies, holding companies of nominated companies and statutory water companies; to amend the law relating to the supply of water and the law relating to provisions of sewers and the treatment and disposal of sewage; to amend the law with respect to pollution of water and the law with respect to its abstraction from inland waters and underground strata; to make new provisions in relation to flood defence and fisheries; to transfer functions with respect to navigation, conservancy and harbours to the National rivers Authority; and for connected purposes.
Date of consolidation/reprint
Various sections of this Act have been consolidated in the Water Resources Act 1991.Last amendment was made by the The Water Act 2014 (Consequential Amendments etc.) Order 2017. The Water Act 1989 is up to date with all changes known to be in force on or before 24 March 2020
Source language


Legislation Amendment