News Feature | November 29, 2016

‘Brexit' To ‘Degrade' Water Regulations In UK, Experts Warn

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome

london reg new.jpg

The United Kingdom’s vote to exit the European Union may have a degrading effect on water and wastewater regulations in the country, according to experts who testified before a parliamentary committee in November.

“The UK's departure from the European Union (EU) could result in economic downturn and the slow degradation of environmental regulations in the waste and water industries,” the experts conveyed, per a report by

Water UK Environmental Director Sarah Mukherjee warned about the potential for water regulations to unravel. "Certainly water companies would not want to see any diminution of environmental standards. It may not necessarily be a race to the bottom, but rather a stroll to the bottom,” she said, per the report.

There is also potential for new difficulties to arise as the country continues to export waste to other parts of Europe. “I think a big fear for the industry at the moment is that we’re facing what we consider to be a looming capacity crunch where landfill capacity is closing throughout the country. We’re not bringing forward the investment in domestic treatment facilities. To date, we’ve been relying on exporting a lot of that material to other parts of northern Europe,” according to Jacob Hayler, executive director of the Environmental Services Association, a trade group for the U.K.’s waste industry.

“Since the referendum decision, we’ve seen the sterling impact which has dramatically increased the costs of that option and fears about future potential tariffs that might limit that even further would drive up costs and create difficulties for waste management in the UK,” he continued.

The panel echoed widespread concerns about the impact of “Brexit” on the environment.

“Environmentalists fear Brexit could see European rules on water cleanliness being undermined,” BBC News reported.

Environmentalists contend that UK coastlines were awash in sewage as recently as the 1980s, but that regulations have changed that. "Back then sewage just went straight to sea. There was no treatment — it was just basically chopped and sent, not even that far out [to sea]," said Steve Crawford, a member of the advocacy campaign Surfers Against Sewage.

The UK has faced pressure from Europe to improve its water quality track record, the BBC reported:

In 1993 the U.K. was taken to court by the European Commission when it failed to meet bathing water standards in nine areas around Lancashire's Fylde coast. These improvements had been implemented by 2001, although there were more threats of fines and further court cases before then.

Water Online’s Peter Chawaga examined the implications of Brexit in a report in July. He noted that in the aftermath of the vote, British Water, a trade group for water and wastewater companies, sought to define how it would navigate the new landscape.

“We will further develop our established links with government organizations, such as UK Trade & Investment and UK Export Finance, and work with them to signpost our members towards the advice they need,” Lloyd Martin, the chief executive of British Water, told Water Online. “We will contribute actively to whatever discussion groups are set up across the industry to pool our knowledge with as many organizations and stakeholders as possible.”

Another potential data point on environmental trends in the UK: Prime Minister Theresa May “worried environmentalists by eliminating the Department of Energy and Climate Change on her first full day in office,” The New York Times reported.

Image credit: "London," Jerzy Kociatkiewicz © 2009, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: