07 April 2015
Article by Harriet Howe, National Assembly Research Service
The European Commission has warned Member States that if they fail to implement the changes required to meet the targets set out in the Water Framework Directive (WFD) they could face potential legal action. In a report, published in March 2015, Member States were told that the Commission could “pursue infringement cases” if more isn’t done to implement strategies aimed at improving the chemical and ecological status of their water bodies.
The WFD requires all inland and coastal (up to a distance of 1 nautical mile) groundwater and surface waters to reach a minimum of ‘good status’ by the end of 2015. To achieve good status the water bodies must meet a set of chemical and ecological standards set by the EU. These take into account factors including pollution, plant, fish and insect life, and water abstraction.
As the 2015 deadline approaches the Commission has expressed concern that some Member States are expected to fall short of these targets, reporting that over half of the EU’s surface waters are unlikely to reach “good ecological status” by the end of 2015. The WFD does allow exemptions, where the economic, technical or natural barriers faced by individual water bodies make reaching the 2015 target unfeasible. However, the report adds that many of these exemptions have been poorly justified by Member States.
Under the WFD countries are made up of ‘river basin districts’. This refers to a group of catchments containing surface and groundwater bodies. Member States are required to improve the condition of water bodies through ‘River Basin Management Plans’. The plans must contain compulsory basic measures such as controls on diffuse pollution and water abstraction. They should also include the details of any supplementary measures which may be required to achieve the ‘good status’ targets set by the WFD. The Commission’s report suggests Member States have only considered how far the existing strategies in their River Basin Management Plans will go towards meeting the WFD targets, rather than what additional action may be required. The report states:
Member States need to identify the most cost-effective combination of measures that are needed to fill in the gap between water’s current status and ‘good status’.
Wales has three river basin districts. The Western Wales district is contained entirely within Wales and is managed by Natural Resources Wales (NRW). The Severn and Dee Districts cross the border with England and are managed by the Environment Agency and NRW respectively. River Basin Management Plans for these three districts were last published in 2010 (for groundwater) and 2011 (for surface water). Both agencies are currently consulting on updates to these River Basin Management Plans, due to be published in December 2015.
In 2012 NRW reported that only 37% of the water bodies in Wales had ‘good ecological status’. This figure increased to 42% in 2014. NRW has stated that by 2015 it expects 50% of the water bodies in Wales to have ‘good ecological status’.
More information can be found in this new quick guide produced by the Research Service; Water Quality in Wales.