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Visible discolouration of water from building sites can attract more than just the attention of SEPA

Building sites can be challenging places for contractors and other construction professionals. Never-the-less, they each have a duty-of-care to minimise their environmental impact onsite and the immediate areas surrounding it.


This means controlling surface water run-off, including water used for onsite activities and additional waters such as rain.


In Scotland for example, the General Binding Rules outlined in the Water Environment (Controlled Activities) Regulations (CAR) state, all sites bar single dwellings must be drained by a sustainable drainage system or equivalent while under development, as a minimum. For sites that meet a certain threshold, a more complex regulatory process is involved.



The discharge from the drainage system must not, among other things, result in ‘visible discolouration’ of the water environment. Contractors should be particularly aware, since a breach has the capacity not only to attract SEPA’s attention, aka fines, but can cause considerable reputational damage in the public eye?


The wording ’visible discolouration‘ is key as it allows a member of the public or site operative to report an incident without having to know the why’s and wherefores, or needing to collect samples. Using the camera on their phone, a concerned member of the public can simply forward images of the discolouration to SEPA who can use this as their evidence base – no samples required.


As well as the obvious risk of enforcement action, continual pollution events of this nature often hint at a lack of overall pollution control leading SEPA to request a construction site discharge licence, even if your site doesn’t meet the parameters laid out in CAR. With a statutory response period of up to 4 months, this can lead to significant delays and added construction costs.


The Binding Rules provide statutory controls over certain low risk activities. Registration is intended to cover low risk activities which cumulatively pose a risk to the water environment, and a licence is needed if site-specific controls are required, particularly if constraints upon the activity are to be imposed.



Naturally Compliant has a strong track record of developing construction water management and pollution prevention plans to meet the needs of a variety of projects. For more information, please contact Simon Knott at,


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