Fish Legal fears an information blackout on storm overflows following announcements of a widespread investigation into water company non-compliance
Fish Legal has written an open letter to the Environment Agency Chief Executive asking for assurances that data relating to storm overflows and information on the impact of discharges from over 2000 sewage treatment works that are now the subject of a joint Environment Agency and Ofwat investigation will continue to be made available to the public.
The Environment Agency investigation was announced on 18 November following admissions by water companies that they may not be complying with their environmental permits across their network.
Fish Legal fears that as are result, the regulator will rely on exemptions under the Environmental Information Regulations to keep details about sewage discharges out of the public domain whilst its investigation is ongoing. This could extend to information on their impact on water quality and wildlife.
Penny Gane, Head of Practice at Fish Legal, said:
“In our experience of Environment Agency investigations the net is cast very wide in terms of the information they refuse to disclose until they have made an enforcement decision. Following a pollution incident they withhold water quality sampling results, invertebrate monitoring data, fish carcass counts and even follow-up fisheries surveys carried out in subsequent years, arguing that releasing that information would prejudice the course of justice.
If they apply the same broad-brush approach to this investigation of more than 2000 sewage treatment works we may be looking at an information black-out not only around the technical detail of any breaches, but the impact these breaches on the environment and public health. Given the scale of investigation, it is likely to take years.
We are seeking reassurances that a veil of secrecy in not about to descend on the operation and impact of storm overflows”.
Fish Legal has a long track record of fighting for transparency in the water and sewage industry, having successfully brought the private companies within the scope of the Environment Information Regulations following a 6 year court battle.