The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) claims that the Agency's failure to tighten up laws brought in as interim measures during privatisation allows raw sewage to be dumped directly into rivers and coastal waters.
"Almost twenty years after the privatisation of the water industry, these CSOs in England and Wales are being allowed to operate under interim arrangements that do not take environmental considerations into account," said MCS coastal protection officer Thomas Bell.
The interim arrangements in question were put into place in 1989 to facilitate the water companies' lawful operation of their newly deregulated assets. At the time of deregulation, around 22,000 CSOs in the UK were covered by what was described as "deemed consent”.
Deemed consent in this case refers to the de facto consent to discharge effluent from CSOs that was given to water companies at the outset of privatisation of the water industry in 1989. It was only ever intended as a temporary measure to protect the new water companies until the status of these 22,000 was determined.
It is the Agency's responsibility to determine whether the CSOs can continue to operate and if so award licenses which can regulate and set environmental restrictions on the CSOs. An Agency spokesman said the Agency aimed to determine the remaining 3,500 deemed consents by the end of year but stressed that it did "not have a statutory duty to determine the remaining deemed consents by a certain date".
"We are also proposing to improve the level of regulatory control of these discharges," added the spokesman.
"Our aim is to ensure that if there is ever any pollution from these discharges that it will be controlled using legislative powers under the Water Resources Act."