Commencement of Water Act begins

The first steps to bring the Water Act 2003 into effect began under a commencement order made in March.1

The Act reformed the abstraction licensing system in England and Wales, and provisions brought into force on 1 April cleared the way for preparations to be made for the reforms to be implemented at a later date.

For example, they enable the Secretary of State to make regulations to vary the standard threshold at which small abstractions will be exempt from licensing and to provide exemptions from licensing further to those established by the Act itself.

Also brought into force on 1 April were various provisions relating to the licensing of water suppliers.

In parallel, preparations for introducing competition in the supply of water to some 2,300 major customers consuming at least 50 million litres per year are under way, with water regulator Ofwat consulting on conditions of supply licences for new entrants.2 Licence applications will be invited in summer 2005, with the market opening to competition in autumn 2005.

Other provisions of the 2003 Act brought into effect on 1 April formally establish the Drinking Water Inspectorate, enable it to bring prosecutions in its own name, and increase the maximum fine for supplying water unfit for human consumption and for failing to provide the DWI with assistance or information from £5,000 to £20,000 in a magistrates court.

Among other provisions brought into force on 1 April were sections 81-83, which impose water conservation duties on the Secretary of State and public authorities generally, and powers for the Coal Authority to tackle discharges from abandoned mines.

Section 24 of the Act, which will take effect on 1 April 2005, provides a new right of civil action against someone who causes loss or damage by abstracting water from inland or underground waters.

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