The Water Framework Directive

The Water Framework Directive (WFD) provides legal structure to protect and restore clean water across Europe and ensure its long-term, sustainable use (DOE, 2015). This WFD integrates agriculture, industry, and spatial planning, and impacts on many other existing pieces of legislation.

The WFD was the result of ongoing investigation into water quality, which began in the 1970’s and 1980’s. This culminated in quality objective legislation on fish waters, shellfish waters, bathing waters and groundwaters. Despite the European Water Policy undergoing a thorough restructuring process in the last 30 years, concern over water quality is still very much evident  among communities, scientific and environmental organisations.

Flash Eurobarometer Report

In 2012 for example, the European Commission’s Directorate-General for the Environment requested 25,524 European citizens aged 15 and above be interviewed by telephone. Interviews were conducted to gauge public opinion on issues relating to water conservation and establish whether awareness of water issues had improved over time (WWW1).

Flash Eurobarometer Results
Level of information about problems facing groundwater, lakes, rivers, and coastal waters (WWW2 p.6)

The results of this survey showed that ‘75% of Europeans consider that the EU should propose additional measures to address water problems in Europe with the main focus of such measures on water pollution from industry and agriculture’ (WWW2). 67% of participants additionally felt that they were not well informed on issues affecting water quality. Participants felt that greater emphasis on dissemination of information was one of the best solutions to tackle this environmental issue collaboratively.

European Commission Flash Eurobarometer Water Frameworks Directive
Tackling Water Problems (WWW2 p.17)

Aims and Objectives

The WFD is unique in that it establishes a framework for the protection of all waters and their dependent wildlife/habitats under one piece of environmental legislation (WWW3). This directive aims to :

  1. protect/enhance all waters (surface, ground and coastal waters)
  2. achieve “good status” for all waters by December 2015
  3. Manage water bodies based on river basins (or catchments)
  4. Involve the public
  5. streamline legislation

River Basin Management Plan

The Birds, Habitats, and Nitrates Directives, coupled with regulations on drinking water, bathing waters, and urban waste are all key factors within the Water Frameworks Directive, as well as the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. A major requirement of Member States within the Water Frameworks Directive is the preparation of River Basin Management Plans, comprised of three, five year planning cycles. Ireland is currently within the second of these planning cycles.

  • 1st Cycle River Basin Management Plans: 2009-2014
  • 2nd Cycle River Basin Management Plans: 2015-2021
2nd Cycle River Basin Management Plan Water Frameworks Directive
River basin districts of second cycle of WFD (2015 – 2021) (WWW3)

These plans are laid out with the goal of achieving Good Ecological Status (GES) of all waters. Ireland will begin its second cycle in 2017. This cycle is behind schedule and so the next cycle will last 4 years rather than 5. Mr. Simon Coveney T.D. Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government has also called for submissions, observations and comments on the current draft plan for 2018 – 2021.

At the time of writing (3/2016), 63% of Irish coastal waters (1 nautical mile from land) were deemed to be in “High” ecological status. The majority of riverine and transitional waters were also deemed to be in a “Moderate” status. Additionally, 73% of Irish rivers have been classified as “unpolluted” as of the last cycle. This is comparatively better than that of most other European countries. In essence, the efficient implementation of this framework, could greatly help the conservation of the coastal marine environment.

Seán & Orla-Peach


WWW1 – Eurobarometer Overview

WWW2 – Flash Eurobarometer Report

WWW3 – River Basin Management Cycles

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