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Pressures & Impacts Risk Assessment as part of the Characterisation Process

The Pressure and Impact assessment reviews the impact of human activity on surface waters and groundwaters and identifies those water bodies that are at risk of failing to meet the Directive's environmental objectives. The assessment is important because it will provide a starting point for integrated catchment management – through the river basin planning process – and will additionally inform monitoring programmes.

The central question of the Pressure and Impact assessment is ‘which water bodies are at risk of failing the environmental objectives set out in the Directive?' Therefore, throughout these web pages ‘at risk' means that the Pressure and Impact assessment shows that there is a likelihood that a water body will fail to meet the Directive's environmental objectives by 2015 unless appropriate management action is taken.

‘At risk' does not necessarily mean that the water bodies are already suffering poor status, but it does highlight areas where appropriate management actions should be applied to ensure that good status is maintained, or to ensure it is achieved in future. It is important to note that the assessments represent an initial characterisation of water bodies, with the Directive requiring further characterisation for ‘at risk' and cross-border water bodies. Where more detailed assessments are undertaken, the risk category may subsequently change. It should also be noted that the assessments cover activities and pressures not previously considered or reported in the management of the water environment in Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland.

Environmental objectives

The environmental objectives that need to be achieved under the Directive are:

For surface water

  • Achievement ofgood ecological status and good surface water chemical status by 2015
  • Achievement of good ecological potential and good surface water chemical status forheavily modified water bodies (HMWB) and artificial water bodies (AWB)
  • Prevention ofdeterioration from one status class to another
  • Achievement ofwater related objectives and standards for protected areas
  • A progressive reduction in discharges of Priority Substances and a cessation ofdischarges of Priority Hazardous Substances

For groundwater

  • Achievement ofgood groundwater quantitative and chemical status by 2015
  • Prevention ofany deterioration in status
  • Reversal of any significant and sustained upward trends in pollution and prevention /limiting input of pollutants to groundwater
  • Achievement ofwater related objectives and standards for protected areas

Water bodies have been identified as being at risk if they are likely to fail any of the above environmental objectives. The focus of the first Pressure and Impact assessment has been on the risk that water bodies will fail to achieve good status by 2015. We understand that under the future Water Framework Directive classification scheme for surface waters, good status will mean that at least mandatory standards need to be met for the following protected areas:

  • Shellfish growing waters
  • Bathing waters
  • Freshwater fish designations
  • Nitrate vulnerable zones
  • Areas designated as sensitive under the Urban Waste Water TreatmentDirective.

Objectives for drinking water protected areas and Natura 2000 sites will also need to be met. Natura 2000 sites include Special Areas of Conservation under the EU Habitats Directive, and Special Protection Areas under the EU Birds Directive.

For groundwaters, a new directive is under consultation, which is intended to establish specific measures to prevent and control groundwater pollution, including the setting of chemical standards, which will define good chemical status.

Working out what is at risk

A key challenge in carrying out this risk assessment exercise is that good status has not yet been fully and consistently defined across Europe. This task is underway and will feed into the final classification scheme to be used for further characterisation and reporting.

The risk assessment has generally been based on the current situation and does not take into account future scenarios or planned improvements. It should be noted that transitional, coastal and groundwater bodies are typically very large and may be identified as being at risk due to localised pressures affecting only small portions of a water body. Any programme of measures established will take this into account.

Although the Directive requires reporting of water bodies as either at risk or not at risk, UKTAG recommended that for UK purposes a further prioritisation is helpful. This more detailed categorisation will enable us to focus our efforts in the first round of river basin management planning. For the first analysis, effort has been concentrated on identifying the most significant risks.

In order to help prioritise future action, results are reported using the following agreed categories shown in Table 1.

Table 1: Agreed reporting categories and subsequent action

Directive reporting category

UK reporting category


At Risk

(1a) Water bodies at significant risk of failing objectives. Consideration of appropriate measures can start as soon as practicable. Consideration of appropriate measures can start as soon as is practical.
(1b) Water bodies probably at significant risk of failing objectives but for which further information is needed to make sure this view is correct. Focus for more detailed risk assessments to determine whether or not the water bodies in this category are at significant risk in time for the interim overview of significant water management issues in 2007.

Not at Risk

(2a) Water bodies probably not at significant risk of failing objectives, or limited data available Focus on improving quality of information in time for second Pressure and Impact analysis report in 2013.
(2b) Water bodies not at significant risk of failing objectives. Review for next Pressure and Impact analysis report in 2013 to identify any significant changes in the situation.

The Pressure and Impact analysis has used a variety of methods and data sets reflecting differences in availability and quality of data. Some assessments have used data recording environmental impacts, e.g. water quality, flora and fauna populations from current monitoring programmes, while others have used the presence of pressures on the environment, e.g. water abstraction sites and locations of physical structures such as weirs which may lead to an environmental impact.

These different approaches reflect the nature of the data and information available to these first assessments. The extent and quality of available data and information will improve in future cycles making later assessments more comprehensive and robust. This will include ensuring compatibility of assessments in cross border water bodies and catchments. Nevertheless, it is believed that this first analysis provides a sound basis from which to develop monitoring programmes and the river basin management planning process. The results of the first pressure and impact analysis are detailed in the Characterisation Report available from the EHS and EPA websites.

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