The NIEA and water pollution

Information about water pollution management in Northern Ireland including the role of the operations team in relation to pollution prevention, pollution response and enforcement actions. Find out how to report incidents of pollution.

Water pollution management

Water pollution management in Northern Ireland has been divided into nine areas. Each of the nine areas is staffed by an Environmental Health (Rivers) Officer (EHRO) or Senior Water Quality Inspector (SWQI) and a number of Water Quality Inspectors (WQIs) who act as field agents on our behalf.

The Fisheries Conservancy Board (FCB) and the Loughs Agency (LA) also carry out pollution investigation and collect evidence on our behalf for use in Water Order prosecution cases.

The operations team

Under the terms of the Water (Northern Ireland) Order 1999 and the Control of Pollution (Oil Storage) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2010 the Operations Team is responsible for preventing or minimising the effects of pollution entering our waterways and also managing the risk of a polluting discharge from occurring. It is also responsible for taking action against polluters when necessary. The team is split into three units:

Pollution prevention

The Pollution Prevention team prevents incidents from happening, or minimises the effect of pollution on the environment once an incident has happened. It also has a role in educating the public and industry, offering advice on pollution prevention, and promoting good environmental practices.

Pollution response

If a pollution incident is reported to us or is discovered during our work, the Pollution Response team will find and stop the source of the pollution, identify the polluter and when necessary collect enough evidence to secure a prosecution.

Enforcement and prosecution

In cases where the source of pollution can be traced, the Enforcement and Prosecution team decides on a suitable course of action to take. This may include an enforcement notice, or prosecution, under the Water (Northern Ireland) Order 1999.

Pollution offences

Under the terms of the Water (Northern Ireland) Order 1999, it is an offence to cause pollution of a waterway or groundwater. Where the source of pollution can be traced, it is the policy of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), where appropriate, to take action.

Article 7 (1) of the Order deals with the main pollution offence, which is:

'a person commits an offence if, whether knowingly or otherwise, that person discharges or deposits any poisonous, noxious or polluting matter so that it enters a waterway or water contained in an underground strata'

'A person guilty of an offence under this Article is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding  three months or to a fine not exceeding £20,000 or to both'

Process and policy

Pollution incidents are investigated and then submitted to the Enforcement Team for a decision on the appropriate course of action to take. This can be the issuing of an enforcement warning letter, or prosecution proceedings.

In cases where it is decided that prosecution is appropriate, NIEA staff collect the necessary evidence and prepare a file which is submitted to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.


Remember that it is an offence to cause pollution, either deliberately or accidentally. In addition, to any fine a court may impose, a person found guilty of causing pollution:

  • may have to pay for analysis and court costs
  • may be liable for the cost of clean-up operations, which can easily run into tens of thousands of pounds
  • may have to pay compensation to angling clubs if a fish kill occurs
  • finally, the negative publicity accompanying a pollution incident will often damage a company's image due to the public's increasing concern about environmental issues

Reporting urgent water pollution incidents

There is a hotline for urgent water pollution incidents. Members of the public are asked to call the following telephone number if they become aware of such an incident:

Tel: 0800 80 70 60

This service must be used to report all urgent water pollution incidents.

During office hours your call will be connected to our headquarters in Lisburn. Outside normal hours, calls are diverted to the Environment Agency where details of your call will be logged and then passed to the Duty Emergency Pollution Officer in Northern Ireland.

Online reporting service

If you would like to report a pollution incident that does not require immediate attention you can email us:

Please note this method of reporting is only checked during working hours.

Please include the following in your correspondence:

  • the exact location of the pollution incident
  • the nature of the pollution
  • your name
  • your address
  • a contact telephone number

Then press the send button. We will investigate the incident as soon as possible.

To report problems to other agencies

If you have a problem with burst watermains, blocked sewers, or your drinking water, contact NI Water on

  • Waterline: 0845 744 0088.

If you want to report flooding of an overflowing river or watercourse, contact the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) Rivers Agency.

If you would like to report a flooded roadway/footway or blocked road gullies, contact DRD Roads Service on the following numbers:

  • Eastern Division Telephone: 028 9025 3000
  • Northern Division Telephone: 028 7035 3202
  • Southern Division Telephone: 028 3752 9500
  • Western Division Telephone: 028 8225 4600

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