This Information page lists some Frequently Asked Questions about the Water Framework Directive.
What is the directive?
The Water Framework Directive (WFD) (2000/60/EC)
The WFD is the most substantial piece of water legislation ever produced by the European Commission and will provide the major driver for achieving sustainable management of water in the UK and the other Member States for many years to come. It requires that all inland and coastal waters within defined River Basin Districts must reach at least ‘good’ status by 2015 and defines how this should be achieved through the establishment of environmental objectives and ecological targets for surface waters.
The result will be a healthy water environment achieved by taking due account of environmental, economic and social considerations.
When did the Directive come into force?
The Directive came into force in December 2000 and was transposed into UK law in December 2003. It is a complicated issue in the UK since the responsibility for river basin management is generally devolved to the regions. It was necessary to identify the River Basin Districts before transposition, since some transcend regional boundaries and, in Ireland, some cross international boundaries.
Why is this Directive necessary?
Before the implementation of the Directive, those responsible for water management were (and for the time being still are) required to comply with a wide range of European legislation which deals with a number of important aspects of water management. This raft of legislation had been put in place to address specific issues of concern over a period of many years. By its very nature, this has tended to be piecemeal and inconsistent.
The Water Framework Directive addresses this by putting in place a framework which requires all the issues within a river basin to be considered at the same time. This will allow cost-effective options for managing a river basin to be identified which will meet the required environmental objectives whilst taking account of the interactions between rivers, lakes, groundwaters, estuaries and coastal waters.
Do all EU Member States have to
comply with the Directive?
The Directive applies to all EU Member States who were required to bring into force the laws, regulations and administrative provisions necessary to comply with the Directive, at the latest by 22 December 2003.
What will the benefits be?
The Directive requires that all inland and coastal waters within defined River Basin Districts must reach at least good status by 2015 and defines how this should be achieved through the establishment of environmental objectives and ecological targets for surface waters. The Directive establishes a framework within which this can be achieved and which relies on the active participation of all the key players.
The result will be a healthy water environment achieved by taking due account of environmental, economic and social considerations. In addition, compliance with the Directive will help prevent further deterioration in the quality of inland and coastal waters and will promote sustainable water consumption.
How will the costs be determined?
Under the Water Framework Directive, Member States will have to develop fair water-pricing policies which ensure that the polluter pays. All users of water, domestic households, industry and agriculture, will be required to contribute in a balanced and adequate way to meet the costs of pollution which arise from their activities.
Does the Directive only deal with surface water issues?
The Directive requires that all inland and coastal waters within defined River Basin Districts must reach at least good status by 2015. This includes both surface waters, such as rivers, lakes and coastal waters, and groundwater, that is all water below the surface of the ground in the saturation zone and in direct contact with the ground or subsoil.
Why do we all have to be aware of the Directive?
Everyone uses water in their daily lives, whether as a water consumer or for recreational activities. Industry and agriculture crucially depend on adequate supplies of water. It is vital that all water resources, comprising lakes, rivers and groundwater, estuaries and coastal waters are clean and healthy and free from pollution.
It is therefore important for everyone to become more aware of how to protect their water environment and what can be done individually to achieve this. The Water Framework Directive specifically encourages active participation in water management activities through public information and consultation.
Who are the competent authorities?
The following have been designated competent authorities for the UK:
The duties of these competent authorities include:
Whether economic analysis is part of the remit for the competent authorities depends on the UK region. In England and Wales it is the responsibility of Defra, supported by the EA and Ofwat (the water services industry regulator).
In Scotland it is the responsibility of SEPA. In Northern Ireland it is the responsibility of the Department of the Environment and the Department for Regional Development. Note that final approval of the river basin management plans and the programmes of measures is the responsibility of:
What is the Common Implementation Strategy?
The Common Implementation Strategy (CIS) was established in 2001 to provide common understanding and guidance on the implementation of the Directive. The CIS is achieved through a number of working groups involving representatives from the European Commission, Member States, accession countries and other organisations having a particular interest in the Directive. More information on the CIS work programme and results to date can be obtained from:
What is UKTAG?
UKTAG stands for the UK Technical Advisory Group which was set up in 2001 to complement the CIS by providing advice on technical aspects of the implementation of the Directive. The Group is a partnership of UK environment and conservation agencies and includes representatives from Ireland. More information on UKTAG and its organisational structure can be obtained from:
What is a pilot river basin?
A pilot river basin network has been established as part of the implementation of the Directive. The Ribble Basin in England’s northwest region is the UK’s pilot river basin and comprises the river network draining into the Ribble Estuary. This is being used to develop a model river basin management plan and involves working closely with local interested parties to identify solutions for the effective management of the water environment. Further information on the pilot river basin network across Europe can be found at:
What is a European Directive?
A European Directive is an agreement between the European Union Member States to harmonise the law across the Union. The process is that a Directive is proposed by the European Commission and agreed by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. The resulting Directive is then enforced by each Member State through local legal and administrative arrangements.
What is sustainable water management?
Sustainable water management means providing clean water to society and achieving a healthy water environment, now and in the future, whilst taking a transparent, fair and balanced view of any impacts on society and the environment, and taking full account of the costs and benefits involved.
This requires a pragmatic approach to water management which encompasses the precautionary principle and the principle that the polluter pays.
All of us can play a part in protecting the water environment. The Water Framework Directive encourages active participation in the development of the river basin management plans which will be an important part of identifying sustainable water management options.
What is meant by subsidiarity?
The principle of subsidiarity is enshrined in European Community law. With respect to the Water Framework Directive, it allows for decisions to be made at individual Member State level, where these can be demonstrated to be environmentally acceptable and cost effective and fall within the overall requirements of the Directive.
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