Water Framework Directive

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Owenahincha Beach (Image Credit: Breda Moriarty)

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 (McGarrigal et al., 2010). 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.

Aims and Objectives

This unique directive “establishes a framework for the protection of all waters including rivers, lakes, estuaries, coastal waters and groundwater, and their dependent wildlife/habitats under one piece of environmental legislation” (www1). This directive aims to (www2):

  • Protect/enhance all waters (surface, ground and coastal waters)
  • Achieve “good status” for all waters by December 2015 (this was revised to 2020)
  • Manage water bodies based on river basins (or catchments)
  • Involve the public
  • Streamline legislation
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 (FE344, 2012, p.3).

European Commission Flash Eurobarometer Water Frameworks Directive
Tackling Water Problems (Image Credit: FE344, 2012, p.17)

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’ (FE344, 2012, pp.17-18). 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.

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) (Image Credit: www3)

These plans are laid out with the goal of achieving Good Ecological Status of all waters. Ireland began  its second cycle in 2017. This cycle is behind schedule and so the next cycle will last 4 years. Discussions on the draft plan for 2018-2021 are ongoing.

As of March 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.


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