A key component of the Water Framework Directive is the development of river basin management plans which will be reviewed on a six yearly basis and which set out the actions required within each river basin to achieve set environmental quality objectives.

This will involve a so-called gap analysis where, for each water body, any discrepancy between its existing status and that required by the Directive is identified.

A programme of measures can then be identified and put in place to achieve the desired goals. A key element of this process is public information and consultation.

Further information on what is required by the Directive, based on an introductory guide published by the Foundation for Water Research, is provided in the accompanying Information pages:

The UK Technical Advisory Group (UKTAG)

(http://www.wfduk.org) is a partnership of UK and Ireland environment and conservation agencies which provides co-ordinated advice on technical aspects of the implementation of the Directive.

What is Gap Analysis?

Gap analysis is essentially the determination for each water body within each river basin district to identify any discrepancy between its existing status and that required under the Directive. The analysis is wide reaching and includes the following areas of activity.

Early output from the reference sites, established under the monitoring programme, will determine the class boundaries for the surface water classification system and thus facilitate the classification of each water body. Their classification will be based on whichever is the worst, their chemical or biological status. Since the full monitoring programme starts late in the planning cycle this classification will be primarily based upon existing data.

For surface water bodies that are already at high or good ecological status the focus will then fall on any gap between existing measures and any future measures needed to maintain that status. Where the current status of surface water bodies falls below that required for good ecological status, attention is focused on measures to restore this status. For surface water bodies, identified as heavily modified water bodies or as artificial water bodies the process is similar except that the aim is good ecological potential. A similar gap analysis process is used to identify where action is needed to protect or enhance the quality of groundwater bodies.

Where water bodies must have special protection, such as those used for public water supply, gap analysis is used to explore the difference between current practice and that needed under the Directive.

The output from the first stage of the economic analysis is important here to determine any gap between current measures and those necessary to protect economically important water bodies, to relieve pressures on resources and to ensure equitable cost recovery under the polluter pays principle.

The gap analysis process provides the basis for the development of the programme of measures, a key component of the river basin management plan.

Setting up the Programme of Measures
(Article 11)

The programme of measures is at the heart of river basin management planning, as it sets out the actions to be taken during the plan period to secure Directive objectives. It builds on the gap analysis and includes the following considerations.

  • Proposals for any modification of the current procedures for licensing abstractions and consenting discharges should they not prove sufficient for Directive requirements.
  • Basic measures required to implement Community legislation for the protection of water in the river basin district as set out in the Directives listed in Table 1.
  • Any pricing measures or other economic instruments intended to provide incentives to encourage more sustainable and efficient water use.
  • If the above is not sufficient to meet Directive requirements, Member States may need to employ supplementary measures such as those listed in Table 2.
  • In exceptional cases additional measures may be needed to protect the aquatic environment. This may be so for international river basins.

The Directive refers to use of the combined approach to river water quality management, that is, the use of both environmental quality standards for the water bodies and emission limit values for any discharge of effluent to them.

The environmental quality standards are the prime driver when emission limit values are being considered. Emission standards from relevant Community legislation provide the minimum standards but tighter controls on effluent discharges will be needed if these minimum standards are insufficient to meet Directive requirements.

Diffuse pollution also falls under these controls but its elimination will also require compliance with codes of good practice designed to minimise risk.

The programme of measures will also identify:

  • Any heavily modified and artificial water bodies within the river basin districts and the actions necessary to secure and maintain their lesser objective of good ecological potential.
  • Any derogations, permanent or temporary, that are sought in respect of individual water bodies.

The Directive includes a number of provisions that allow Member States to set lower environmental standards for specific water bodies where there are legitimate technical and economic reasons. In this way, a balance may be struck between the three principles of sustainable development: environmental, economic and social. Indeed, economic analysis forms an important aspect of the development of the programme of measures and is used to:

  • Evaluate the costs and effectiveness of potential measures.
  • Support the designation of heavily modified water bodies.
  • Construct a cost-effective programme of measures.
  • Evaluate whether costs are disproportionate.
  • Assess the financial implementation of the programme of measures.

Instances where the costs of measures to bring a water body into compliance with Directive requirements are disproportionate to the benefits gained, or where there is no feasible alternative solution, may form the basis upon which to seek a permanent derogation.

Alternatively, where there is insufficient information for final decision concerning the appropriate measures, or the measures are very costly, a temporary derogation may be sought to allow extra time for the requirements to be met.

In this context, it should be appreciated that river basin planning is a cyclical process in which the plans and associated programmes of measures are reviewed on a six-yearly basis.

Development of the River Basin Management Plan
(Article 13)

A river basin management plan must be prepared for each river basin district and must encompass the milestones of river basin management planning described above.

It should be noted that the river basin management plan is essentially a snapshot in time and is the subject of continual review. Essentially, the first-generation river basin management plans represent the transition between the initial analysis and implementation of the Directive. Their cyclical updating is a refining process based on improved data and understanding and allowing for real changes of circumstances in the river basins.

The principal mechanism for achievement of the Directive requirements is through the implementation of the programme of measures.

There are two important features of the planning process before the river basin management plans can be finalised.

  • Stakeholders and the general public must be consulted on their content and the proposals in them (See Public Information and Consultation page 4).
  • The appropriate government minister must approve them.

A guide to the content of the river basin management plan document is given in Annex VII of the Directive and is summarised in Table 3, (page 6).

The information required is extensive, covering every aspect of the river basin planning process and, if requested by the Commission, access to supplementary information must be made available by the Member State.

Essentially the Plans perform the following functions:

  • They act as an inventory and documentation mechanism for the information gathered including: environmental objectives for surface and ground waters, quality and quantity of waters, and the impact of human activity on water bodies.
  • They co-ordinate programmes of measures and other relevant programmes within the river basin district.
  • They form the main progress reporting mechanism to the EC as required by Directive Article 15.
  • The first river basin management plans must be published by the end of 2009 and will indicate the quality and quantity objectives to be achieved by 2015.

Public Information and Consultation
(Article 14)

Active involvement by interested parties is a core principle of the river basin planning process. In particular, during the production, review and updating of the river basin management plans.

The involvement of interested parties in the UK began with the public consultation process that preceded the incorporation of the Directive into law. In England and Wales, respondents to this process, and other notable stakeholders, were invited to join a national Stakeholder Group to act as a sounding board on implementation issues. Similar arrangements are in place in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Proposals for engaging the wider general public are still at the formative stage. The Directive requires that Member States shall ensure that, for each river basin district, they publish and make available for comments to the public (including users) the following:

  • A timetable and work programme for the production of the plan and the consultation measures to be taken, at least three years before the beginning of the plan period.
  • An overview of the significant water management issues identified in the river basin, at least two years before the beginning of the plan period.
  • Draft copies of the river basin management plan, at least one year before the beginning of the plan period.
  • On request, access to background documents and information used for the development of the draft plan.

To allow active involvement and consultation with interested parties, including stakeholders and the public, Member States must allow six months for written comments on these documents.

Implementation of the Programme of Measures
(Article 11)

Reporting Progress
(Article 15)

The Directive requires that the programme of measures associated with each river basin district is in place by December 2009 at the latest and that all the measures therein are made operational by December 2012 at the latest.

Each programme of measures is to be updated by December 2015 and every six years thereafter with any new, or revised, measures being made operational within three years of their establishment.

The published river basin management plans and their incorporated programmes of measures must be submitted to the European Commission within three months of their publication. Thereafter, Member States must submit an interim report describing progress with the implementation of the programmes of measures.

The Commission will publish a report in 2012 and every six years thereafter for submission to the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. The report will include the following:

  • A review of progress with Directive implementation.
  • A review of the status of surface and groundwaters undertaken in co-ordination with the European Environment Agency.
  • A survey of the river basin management plans submitted by Member States, including suggestions for the improvement of future plans.
  • A summary of the responses made to each Member State that submitted a report or recommendation, under Article 12, concerning matters that cannot be resolved at Member State level.
  • A summary of any proposals, control measures and strategies against the pollution of water as indicated in Article 16.
  • A summary of the responses to comments made by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers on previous implementation reports.

Various other periodic implementation reports to the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers are to be made by the Commission.

It is also intended that the Commission will convene, in line with the reporting cycle, a conference of interested parties on Community water policy from each Member State to comment on the Commission’s implementation reports and to share experiences. Participants will include representatives from the competent authorities, the European Parliament, NGOs, social together with economic partners, consumer bodies, academics and other experts.

Evaluation of the Effectiveness
of the Plan and Programme of Measures
(Article 11)

The river basin management plans and programmes of measures are not intended as a once-only exercise, but as a dynamic process based upon a six-yearly cycle of updating. In this way, changes to the pressures on a water body, both natural and anthropogenic, can be recognised and new measures developed to overcome them. Furthermore, refinements to the monitoring programme, and the availability of further data, will enable fine-tuning to existing measures and give early warning of new problems so that appropriate action can be taken.

The evaluation process also gives the opportunity to review existing water body classifications, any derogations obtained during the preceding plan period and the general effectiveness of the programme of measures in the achievement of good status in designated water bodies. It will also provide the basis for compiling the progress reports required by the Directive.

Table 1
Basic measures to be included in the Programme of Measures

Measures required under the following Directives:

  • The Bathing Water Directive - (76/160/EEC)
  • The Birds Directive - (79/04/EEC)
  • The Drinking Water Directive - (80/778/EEC)
    as amended by Directive - (98/83/EC)
  • The Major Accidents (Seveso II) Directive - (96/82/EC)
  • The Environmental Impact Assessment Directive - (85/337/EEC)
  • The Sewage Sludge Directive - (86/278/EEC)
  • The Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive - (91/271/EEC)
  • The Plant Protection Products Directive - (91/414/EEC)
  • The Nitrates Directive - (91/676/EEC)
  • The Habitats Directive - (92/43/EEC)
  • The Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Directive - (96/61/EC)

Based on Annex VI (Part A) of Directive 2000/60/EC.

Table 2
Supplementary measures that may be included
in the Programme of Measures

The following is a non-exclusive list of the supplementary measures that may be included
in the Programme of Measures:

  • Legislative, administrative, economic and fiscal instruments.
  • Abstraction and emission controls.
  • Negotiated environmental agreements.
  • Codes of good practice.
  • Demand management measures.
  • Efficiency and re-use measures.
  • Artificial recharge of aquifers.
  • Recreation and the restoration of wetlands.
  • Construction projects.
  • Desalination plants.
  • Rehabilitation projects.
  • Education projects.
  • Research, development and demonstration projects.
  • Other relevant measures.

Based on Annex VI (Part B) of Directive 2000/60/EC.

Table 3
Summary of the issues to be covered in the
River Basin Management Plan

The river basin management plan for each river basin district should include the following:

  • General description of the characteristics of the river basin district, including a map showing the location and boundaries of the surface and ground water bodies and a further map showing the types of surface water bodies within the basin.
  • Summary of the significant pressures and the impact of anthropogenic activity on the status of surface and ground waters, including point source pollution, diffuse pollution and related land use, the quantitative status of water including abstractions and an analysis of other impacts of human activity on water status.
  • Map showing any protected areas.
  • Map of the monitoring network.
  • Map of the results of the monitoring programme showing the status of all water bodies and protected areas.
  • List of the environmental objectives set for all water bodies, including those where the use has been made of derogations.
  • Summary of the economic analysis of water use.
  • Summary of the programme or programmes of measures.
  • Register of any more detailed programmes and management plans and a summary of their contents.
  • Summary of the public information and the consultation measures taken, their results and the changes to the plan as a consequence.
  • List of competent authorities.
  • Contact points and procedures for obtaining background documentation and information, including actual monitoring data.

Based on Guidance Document No 1, Common Implementation Strategy for the Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC).

© European Communities, 2003.



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