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Environmental activists are trying to stop a water company from being granted almost total immunity from any private lawsuit for releasing untreated sewage into waterways.

The Good Law Project (GLP), and the Environmental Law Foundation(ELF) are challenging a high court decision that United Utilities can not be subject to any private legal action regarding its discharges of storm sewage into the Manchester Ship Canal.

The court of Appeal is currently reviewing the April 2011 decision. It granted permission this week for the legal organizations to submit evidence as part.

Jo Maugham (director of the GLP) stated that if United Utilities won the case it would end a vital legal option for holding water companies responsible for sewage dumping. The GLP’s lawyers claim that the decision will serve as a precedent on which all water companies can rely.

The court of appeal will hear from environmental groups that it is now clear that storm overflow sewage dumping has been occurring with alarming frequency and does not only occur in extreme circumstances, such as after heavy rainfall.

Emma Montlake is the joint executive director for the ELF. She stated: ELF works alongside and assists communities across Britain who are suffering from the environmental and health effects of sewage contamination into British water systems.

We are happy that the court [of appeal]ELFs and the evidence of other members of the consortium have been agreed to be available to the court of appeal in order to help understand the context of unchecked wastewater pollution.

In 2010, the battle for the right to sue a water company for outflows of rawsewage began when the owners of Manchester’s ship canal sought damages from United Utilities. MSC argued that water companies didn’t have the legal right to pollute waterways by using raw sewage. They argued that discharges that were not authorized or properly treated would be illegal and could be challenged in court.

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United Utilities requested a court declaration that it could not be sued as a water company because it was a matter of the regulator.

The high court sided with the water company, and granted the declaration it requested. It declared that United Utilities had no legal claim against them regarding discharges from company outfalls. In support of his decision, the judge stated that discharges are the result of flooding, which results in the capacity exceedingly low in the existing system. This was without United Utilities being able to do anything legal to stop it.

2020 Water companies discharged more than 400,000 gallons of raw sewage into waterways and rivers in a span of 3.1m hours.

A spokesperson for United Utilities said that the legal case you have cited is not about avoiding accountability. It is meant to clarify the regulatory position concerning wastewater outfalls. This is just the latest in a long line of cases against United Utilities, brought by the Manchester Ship Canal owners. As the legal proceedings continue, we cannot comment further.

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