Water in Europe

Definition of Watercourse

The right of watercourse is the right of receiving or discharging water through another person’s land, and is an easement.

Public drinking water supplies regulations: European Commission Directive (EU) 2015/1787 amending annexes II and III to Council Directive 98/83/EC on the quality of water intended for human consumption

The purpose of Directive (EU) 2015/1787 is to revise the monitoring and analysis requirements set out in Annex II and Annex III of Directive 98/86/EC (the Drinking Water Directive). Member States are required to bring into force the laws, regulations and administrative provisions necessary to comply with the revised Drinking Water Directive by 27 October 2017.

Council Directive 2000/60/EC establishing a framework for Community action in the field of water policy (Water Framework Directive) (WFD)

The European Water Framework Directive is a wide-ranging piece of legislation covering all water bodies including rivers, lakes, estuaries, coastal waters and ground waters.

Directive’s aims

The main aim of the Directive is to raise the quality of all water bodies to ‘Good Ecological Status’ or better. This means that not only should the chemical water quality of our rivers, lakes and coastal areas be at good status, but also all associated biological elements such as plants, invertebrates and fish.

If any one of these elements are deemed to be below ‘Good Ecological Status’ then that water body will be determined to have failed to meet its target.

Some of the European rivers have been modified so significantly that it is technically or economically unfeasible to reach ‘Good Ecological Status’. These water bodies have been designated as ‘Heavily Modified’ and must reach a different standard of ‘Good Ecological Potential’. This means that all feasible mitigation measures must be put in place to maximise the ecological potential of the water body ie. the best that it can be, given the changes that have been made in past years.

The Water Framework Directive introduced a holistic approach to the management of water quality, and requires the protection and improvement of all aspects of the water environment including rivers, lakes, estuaries, coastal waters and groundwater.

The Directive places a responsibility on Member States to try and ensure that all inland and coastal waters reach at least “good status” (or good ecological potential for artificial or heavily modified water bodies). The Directive uses five status classifications for normal waterbodies: High, Good, Moderate, Poor and Bad and allows for extended deadlines or less stringent objectives to be set for water bodies, should certain conditions be met.

To achieve the target of reaching good status or above, Member States are required to implement management planning at river basin level, linking with other key policy areas such as agriculture, land use, biodiversity, tourism, recreation and flood protection. This is done through the publication of river basin management plans (RBMPs) which set out a programme of measures to be implemented over six-year cycles aimed at improving the status of waterbodies.

Natural Resources

Rivers, lakes and coastal waters are vital natural resources: they provide drinking water, crucial habitats for many different types of wildlife, and are an important resource for industry and recreation. A significant proportion of them are environmentally damaged or under threat. Protecting and improving the environment is an important part of achieving sustainable development and is vital for the long term health, well being and prosperity of everyone. The EC Water Framework Directive is a radical improvement on earlier, piecemeal EU water legislation. It expands the scope of water protection to all waters and sets out clear objectives that must be achieved by specified dates.

In October 2000 the ‘Directive 2000/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2000 establishing a framework for Community action in the field of water policy’ (Water Framework Directive or WFD) was adopted and came into force in December 2000. The purpose of the Directive is to establish a framework for the protection of inland surface waters (rivers and lakes), transitional waters (estuaries), coastal waters and groundwater. It will ensure that all aquatic ecosystems and, with regard to their water needs, terrestrial ecosystems and wetlands meet ‘good status’ by 2015.

The Directive requires Member States to establish river basin districts and for each of these a river basin management plan. The Directive envisages a cyclical process where river basin management plans are prepared, implemented and reviewed every six years. There are four distinct elements to the river basin planning cycle: characterisation and assessment of impacts on river basin districts; environmental monitoring; the setting of environmental objectives; and the design and implementation of the programme of measures needed to achieve them.

The Directive has a series of implementation deadlines which stretch to December 2015 (the date by which environmental objectives must be met).

The river basin approach

A key feature in the implementation of the WFD is the development of River Basin Management Plans (RBMPs).

One River Basin Management Plan is produced for each River Basin District (RBD).

Transposition to UK Legislation

Transposition into national law in the UK occurred through the following regulations: The Water Environment (Water Framework Directive) (England and Wales) Regulations 2003 (Statutory Instrument 2003 No. 3242) for England and Wales; the Water Environment and Water Services (Scotland) Act 2003 (WEWS Act) and The Water Environment (Water Framework Directive) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2003 (Statutory Rule 2003 No. 544) for Northern Ireland.

Related Directives

As a framework Directive, achieving the objectives of the WFD relies heavily on the successful implementation and achievement of the requirements of other key European Water Directives. These include:

  • Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive
  • Drinking Water Directive
  • Nitrates Directive

Two ‘daughter’ Directives of the Water Framework Directive, relating to the protection of groundwater and the reduction of pollution caused by priority substances, have further identified specific requirements:

  • Groundwater Directive
  • Priority Substances Directive

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