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More information on the Water Framework Directive

On 22 December 2000, the European Union (EU) passed a new piece of legislation, the Water Framework Directive (WFD). This is the most significant piece of water quality legislation to be developed by the EU for at least twenty years and it will revolutionise the way we manage one of our most important resources.

Previous European water legislation set objectives aimed at protecting particular uses of the water environment from the effects of pollution and guarding the water environment from dangerous chemical substances. The WFD takes many of these objectives forward. More importantly, it also introduces additional, broader ecological objectives that are designed to defend, and where necessary restore the structure and function of aquatic ecosystems.

The Directive establishes an original, integrated approach to the protection, improvement and sustainable use of rivers, lakes, estuaries, coastal waters and groundwater within Europe. It impacts on the management of water quality and water resources and affects conservation, fisheries, flood defense, planning and environmental monitoring. It requires us to control all impacts –physical, polluting or otherwise – on our water resource.

The terminology used on these web pages includes words that are used in the Directive, which is a legal document. One of the reasons for such terminology is to ensure consistency across member states when reporting. Some of the terms used are completely new and others may be unfamiliar to us, such as, estuaries being described as transitional waters.

The primary focus of the Directive is to achieve 'good' ecological status for all waters by 2015.

The Directive:

  • Considers the full range of the water environment, from "Source to Sea" i.e.groundwaters, rivers, lakes, estuaries, transitional waters and coastalwaters.
  • Considers theimpact upon wetlands of the management of water quality and quantity.
  • Sets environmental objectives, which take account of the full range of pressures upon the aquatic environment (pollution, abstraction, flowregulation/transfer and habitat impact). The emphasis being onecological quality.
  • Ecological status is divided into five classes (high, good, moderate, poor and bad) and is derived from measurements of biological, hydro morphological and physio-chemical elements. The measurement of the biological elements includes aquatic flora (plants), benthicinvertebrates (small animals that live on the bottom of rivers, lakesand coastal water bodies) and fish.
  • Promotessustainable use of water resources.
  • Defines a planning, management and reporting system based upon River Basin Districts and International River Basin Districts. These are based upon large river basins or a combination of smaller neighbouring basins and include all rivers, lakes, estuaries, coastal waters and associatedgroundwaters.
  • Involves social participation and transparency. Member States have to involve as many parties as possible (e.g. stakeholders, local and regional authorities,water users and environmental groups) in drafting, discussing andupdating River Basin Management Plans.

The Water Framework Directive and its relationship with other legislation

The Directive, due to its wide-reaching nature, will eventually replace a number of the other water quality directives (for example, those on Surface Water Abstraction, Freshwater Fisheries and Shellfish Waters) and implementation of others (for example, the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control, Urban Waste Water Treatment, Habitats and Nitrates Directives) will form part of the 'basic measures' for the Water Framework Directive.

The new approach of the Water Framework Directive

The Directive states that water quality management be centered on river basins, which are natural geographical areas that occur in the landscape. This is in contrast to other water management systems which use administrative management units which have arbitrary boundaries.

Management of these basins will be achieved through management plans, a plan being created for each River Basin District. "Characterisation Reports" must be in place for every River Basin District. The reports give an account of each basin, including the pressures and impacts caused by humans. The report is necessary to work out whether such effects are likely to inhibit the accomplishment of good status.

The scientific assessment of the river basin that is contained in the Characterisation Report is vital for the production of the "Programme of Measures". The Programme of Measures consists of policies and strategies, such as monitoring programmes, that are intended to reduce the risk to water bodies and allow them to attain good status.

You can download the Water Framework Directive here (The EU Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC).

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