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Water Testing Cost Amendments

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DEFRA’s Water Classification Directions to the Environment Agency

Could water testing costs (either as part of due diligence work or operationally in relation to discharge consents) be set to rise in the future?  Darren Wilcox of Peter Brett Associates LLP ponders this and other questions raised as a result of the draft Directions.

In October 2008, DEFRA issued a draft “Directions to the Environment Agency on classification of water bodies” for consultation as part of its duties under the Water Framework Directive (WFD). PBA has reviewed the draft and contributed to the consultation process through a direct response to DEFRA.

Surface Water Classification
We note that the proposed new requirements for classifying surface waters are significantly more complex than the existing Environment Agency General Quality Assessment (GQA) scheme for rivers and canals.

With the GQA scheme, analytical costs for determining the classification of a river sample are typically less than £20. To classify the same river sample using the proposed method in the new draft Directions could cost in excess of ten times this amount.

The Directions are also not clear on how many exceedances of the 33 environmental standards would be required in order to classify an surface water body as failing to achieve good chemical status.

Groundwater Classification
To classify groundwaters, DEFRA has produced different assessment standards for different aquifers in different catchments of England and Wales. This has lead to the publication of a 160 page annex detailing different groundwater quality thresholds.

In many cases, the proposed threshold values are lower than prescribed concentrations for UK drinking water (specified in the water supply regulations). PBA has questioned the sustainability of aspiring to a situation where groundwater quality is superior to tap water quality.

The low groundwater threshold values proposed may lead local authorities or the EA to set unreasonably stringent remediation target values for groundwater where brownfield sites have recorded slight groundwater contamination issues. This in turn could lead to excessive costs for brownfield redevelopment in the future.

Darren Wilcox
Peter Brett Associates LLP