Water Framework Directive


28 July 2006

This article gives some information about the current status of the Water Framework Directive in the UK and some implications for water users

graphic showing water uses
The Water Framework Directive will rationalise and update existing water legislation, as well as improving standards of protection for the water environment. 

In terms of managing all freshwater bodies, groundwater, estuaries and coastal waters. An integrated approach will be taken to water quality and water quantity issues.

Background

The Water Framework Directive was passed into UK law in 2003. The Environment Agency and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency will be the competent authority responsible for implementing the legislation in England and Wales, and Scotland respectively.   

What is it ?

The Water Framework Directive will rationalise and update existing water legislation, as well as improving standards of protection for the water environment. 

In terms of managing all freshwater bodies, groundwater, estuaries and coastal waters. An integrated approach will be taken to water quality and water quantity issues. The key element of this approach is the concept of river basin management. This will be developed through a process of public participation. 

Timescale and Impact

The overall requirement of the Directive is that all river basins will achieve "good ecological and good chemical status" by 2015 unless there are grounds for derogation. This will require a management plan to be prepared for each river basin. 

Draft management plans will be published for consultation in 2008. Finalised plans will be published by the of end 2009, together with the detailed programme of measures needed to meet the objectives within each river basin. 

These measures must be operational by 2012. These programmes will raise implications for all industry sectors whose activities affect the water environment. 

Any organisation with an abstraction licence and/or a discharge directly to the water environment or via a trade effluent to sewer will be affected. 

Minor amendments need to be made to the legislation on water-abstraction controls under the Water Resources Act 1991. For example, ‘discrete waters’ are not subject to existing abstraction controls but need to be under the WFD. Amendment is therefore likely to be made to include abstractions from discrete waters such as reservoirs (and, potentially, lakes and ponds).   

This will include agriculture, construction chemicals and any business with trade discharge consents, trade effluent licences or water abstraction licences. 

There is also a list of Priority Hazardous Substances, where releases to water should cease or use of which should cease within a twenty year period. 

Implications for organisations

2009 will see the full impact of the Water Framework Directive, following the implementation of the programmes of measures. Businesses can prepare by being aware of the likely effects and taking part in the consultation processes. 

Water-pricing policies must contain adequate incentives for the efficient use of water resources; and for each sector, such as industry or agriculture, adequate contributions are made to the recovery of the environmental and resource costs of water services in accordance with the ‘polluter pays’ principle.   

This implies changes to water tariffs and environmental permit costs.

Use of Existing Legislation

The Water Framework Directive does not require amendment to existing water and environmental legislation in the UK. There are likely to be, minor amendments to the groundwater discharge consent regime under the Groundwater Regulations 1998. 

Overall, is likely to find that regulators both impose additional conditions on discharge consents and tighten existing discharge consent conditions. 

Businesses can expect this to happen from 2009 onwards and will certainly need to be implemented 2015. 

Conventional approaches may mean improvements and extensions to on-site effluent treatment before release into the environment, which in turn may involve expenditure. 

The adoption of such techniques as green or Sustainable Process Design combined with appropriate product design can minimise the unproductive expenditure on end of pipe treatment processes. 

New regulations

The UK government believes that there are only a small number of areas where new regulation is required to ensure the Water Framework Directives environmental objectives are met. 

These areas are: 

Diffuse pollution

Diffuse pollution is the most significant area. This most commonly associated with the agriculture industry in the UK. 

It also arises from activities, such as run-off from industrial sites.   

The UK government has proposed a new power to prevent and control diffuse pollution. 

Legal obligations would be placed on owners or occupiers of land, or others undertaking activities that have the potential to contribute to diffuse pollution, to take action to achieve the environmental objectives. For example, a business on an industrial estate may have to implement pollution-control measures to reduce or prevent water-pollution incidents, or a site may have to install better drainage systems. 

There is also a measure for pollution prevention at technical installations and for prevention of accidental pollution incidents. A number of controls exist already in meeting this requirement, particularly for larger industrial installations (such as the Major Accidents (Seveso) Directive 96/82/EC). 

However, the government will consider whether there is a need to develop additional legal controls. 

Again the adoption of Sustainable Process Design and the implementation of an effective environmental management system can reduce diffuse pollution by minimising fugitive losses, avoiding spillages and losses so reducing the costs of end of pipe systems and environmental remediation 

Conclusion 

There are likely to be significant implications for businesses arising from the Water Framework Directive. The full implications, will not be known until 2009 and any new legislation or arrangements that are required have been put in place.


Related Links

Link icon UK Water Framework Technical Advisory Group
The WFD-UKTAG is the United Kingdom Technical Advisory Group (UKTAG) supporting the implementation of the European Community (EC) Water Framework Directive (Directive 2000/60/EC).

Link icon EU water policy
The background thinking about EU water policy can be found at water pages on the Europa web site


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