Understanding Water Discharge Permits

Here we look at what businesses need to understand about water discharge permits, the cost of non-compliance and how water treatment specialists such as VWT UK can help.

What are water discharge permits?

Any business that creates wastewater in the course of its operations must seek permission from the relevant water company to discharge it. This includes water used for cooling purposes and applies to all types of industry including agriculture and fisheries. 

This wastewater is known as ‘trade effluent’ and regardless of its properties a discharge permit is required – known as a trade effluent consent. This applies wherever in the UK the business operates as the equivalent pieces of legislation in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland all have the same requirement. However, a discharge consent is not required where the wastewater discharged from the premises only comes from what is defined as ‘domestic sewage’ such as welfare facilities on site.

The trade effluent consent is granted on a case by case basis and will be specific to the business, its premises and the characteristics of the water discharged. It will give specific parameters for the water including: 

  • Maximum effluent volume and flow rate, 
  • Temperature, 
  • pH, 
  • Chemical nature, 
  • Organic load and composition. 

Depending on the nature of the business it may also include measures to prevent other substances or harmful materials from entering the sewer or water course. 

Why are discharge permits required?

Water companies are responsible for treating wastewater from both domestic and industrial premises so it can be safely discharged to the environment. To do this effectively they need to know the volumes and characteristics of effluent produced. For domestic sewerage this is relatively simple to predict and address. 

However, because the effluent from industrial premises differs greatly in its volume and composition, the water companies must understand and place limits on what is being discharged to the sewer. 

It also makes it the responsibility of the business to ensure that the water it discharges does not contain harmful contaminants or high levels of other substances that may cause challenges once it reaches the municipal wastewater treatment plant. To achieve this, treatment on site is often required to deal with the specific nature of the wastewater.

What are the legal and cost implications of non-compliance?

It is a criminal offence to discharge trade effluent to the public sewer without consent. Also, where consent is in place, all conditions and limits outlined by the consent are legally binding so failure to comply with the terms can result in prosecution.

The water company that oversees and grants the trade effluent consent has the authority to bring prosecution against any business that breaches the terms of its consent. The fines that can result from this prosecution are unlimited and are decided by the court based on the seriousness of the breach. The financial impact alone can be serious but it’s also important to take into account the potential damage to the business from any negative publicity around such a prosecution. Therefore, ensuring compliance at all times is vital.

What can businesses do to ensure compliance?

Due to the complexity of wastewater management, partnering with a water treatment technology specialist is always recommended. They can work with you to develop a cost effective solution that meets your requirements and ensures full compliance with the regulations.

Regardless of whether it is an existing or updated permit, the first step should be to ensure you have a complete and accurate understanding of the current composition of the wastewater. This allows areas of non-compliance or potential issues to be identified and from this a plan can be created to address any concerns. At VWT, we can provide in-depth, comprehensive audits of the water cycle to identify any areas of concern and where improvements can be made.

Based on the analysis of the wastewater a recommendation can be made on which technologies and techniques are best suited to achieving the required results. This may be replacement of older, inefficient systems, the implementation of a new treatment technique or adding a new treatment step, either at the beginning or end of the process to reach the required levels of quality. Our expert team can also advise on optimising the existing plant and processes to increase the volume or load capacity as well as how water reuse systems can reduce both water consumption and costs.

At VWT UK we have a wide range of industrial wastewater treatment solutions and technologies to best suit the needs of the business – ultimately helping to generate value not cost from your wastewater.

Find out more on our website or watch our video on discharge permits here.



Daniel Parry

About the Author

Daniel Parry

Daniel spent the first 10 years of his career managing proposals for large EPC (Engineering Procurement & Construction) power projects. Daniel has been with Veolia Water Technologies for 7 years where he has managed the proposals for Industrial and Municipal projects. Daniel also now manages the sales team for Industrial Wastewater opportunities ensuring that Veolia Water Technologies work with each customer to design and deliver the most appropriate solution for their needs.