Water Protection in Context of the Water Framework Directive

Public Participation in Forming a Management Plan for Water

Europe's Water is an Imminent Concern

Reaching good, healthy conditions in most German rivers will only be possible through various and extensive measures. To the level of necessity of these measures is clarified by a survey taken in 2005, which gives a tentative estimate: at most 60% of water bodies in Germany fail to meet good status. Deficits within the morphologic structures of water bodies and eutrophication are among the leading causes of poor water quality.

Key steps:

  • Improvement of the hydromorphology and restoration of habitats
  • Assurance of biological permeability
  • Natural development of floodplains
  • Reduction of nutrient inflow, especially from agriculture
  • Reduction of toxin inflow

River Basin Management Plans

The action frameworks to improve the situation of European waters are outlined in River Basin Management Plans (RBMP) that will be drafted from the end of 2006 to the end of 2009. The guidelines of the WFD focus less on preliminary aspects such as content, format and design, but rather mainly on the objective of obtaining good water status. It is obvious that this objective will only be achieved by using a broad palette of instruments, from individual technical endeavors to an overarching transformation of agro-environmental politics. Action should be taken now. We have the chance to address high-impact structures such as dams and dikes whose technical utilities have expired. A small step, such as uncovering piped waters running through farmland, is one example of an economically advantageous alternative to reconstruction. The regulation of exemptions is built into the RBMP, in particular the designation of "heavily modified water bodies". Classification as a HMWB will be justified in the high cost of improvement or, as the case may be, limits of technical feasibility.

Public Participation under WFD Article 14

Public consultation takes place in three stages (see schedule below). Beyond the mandatory distribution of information and consultation, competent authorities are obliged to encourage "active involvement" of the public. The opportunities of active participation reflect higher quality and readier acceptance of the resulting plans, and also the integration of actors, allowing them to implement measures within their own capacities. Environmental organizations, especially those with conservation objectives should insist on the "no deterioration" clause and are encouraged to demand that exceptions remain exceptions, and must not become the rule.

Nature Conservation as a Goal of the Water Management

Nature protection is an explicit goal of the WFD. In water-related, protected areas, especially those within the Natura 2000-Network, conservation goals are at the same time goals of the WFD. Water management is thus obliged to contribute to the achievement of the considered conservation objectives.
As a general rule, the hydrologic development objectives of the WFD are consistent with the concepts of ecological protection, and the integration of floodplains needs to be a central issue. From the perspective of nature conservation, another key concern is that the WFD mandates the improvement of the state of groundwater-dependent ecosystems and wetlands.

Floodplains are part of the river structure. Without "lateral connectivity," it will be hard to achieve good status.

Fields of Conflict

The ecological development goals of the WFD are in many cases in conflict with agricultural practices and flood prevention measures as well as the use of water bodies as waterways and for hydropower. These areas of conflict need to be taken into account as significant water management issues and regarded carefully. The WFD establishes a framework for regulating necessary exemptions for all water uses.
An overwhelming portion of pollution comes from agricultural land and the maintenance of water by agriculture, entailing further ecological problems. In spite of the ambiguity of the EU Common Agricultural Policy, during discussions of available funds for water projects, it should be considered that much of the pollution which farming creates is heavily subsidized by the public. A stepwise solution to this, a polluter-pays approach, appears effective and needs to be considered in the context of cost efficiency. The contents of compensation-free, law abiding, "good farming" practices and their delineation from subsidies for avoiding environmental damage have hardly been discussed within the context of the WFD. Until May 2009, according to the Water Budget Act (WHG), the creation of flood control plans should be closely linked with RBMP and the drafts should be presented publicly. Especially on the Danube, Elbe and Oder, the use and maintenance of waterways, particularly within the framework of the EU's "Trans-European Networks," sometimes jeopardize the objectives of water and nature conservation. Unfortunately, the economic analysis carried out in advance of the draft RBMP provides no reliable economic data for traffic on these waterways, supplying no counterweight to water protection objectives.

Environmental Goals of the WFD

The central objective of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) is to achieve "good status" for surface and ground water by 2015. With its ambitious environmental goals and targets for comprehensive consideration of biological parameters, the WFD introduces the ecosystem approach to European waters: water management must concern itself with the goal of preserving water as a habitat for aquatic flora and fauna, which is a reference point for a "good" and natural state of water. The concept of good status for waters is derived from components of a water body's ecological and chemical status. The directive also lays down a general non-deterioration obligation for all waters. A key criterion for assessing the condition of groundwater is the degree of human intervention in it and the level of impairment of ecosystems dependent on it caused by this intervention. An EU-wide mandatory threshold for nitrate (50 mg / l) and pesticides is used. A number of pollutants, the so-called Priority Substances, are subject to special regulations-in a daughter directive-which combine emissions limits and imissions quality targets in order to reduce their concentration.

Basic Principles in Implementing the WFD

The WFD introduces integrated management within river basins, in either large basins (e.g. Rhine, Elbe, Danube) or several neighbouring small rivers (e.g. Warnow/Peene), with an obligation to trans-boundary cooperation. Through a joint implementation strategy (Common Implementation Strategy, CIS) the activities of the member states are supported by the EU Commission and Water Directors, through the use of "guidance" documents and similar strategies. Environmental organizations participate in this process mainly through the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) in Brussels and WWF. In Germany, the environmental ministries of the individual federal states are responsible for implementing the WFD. The states mostly coordinate their activities within river regions and nationwide through the LAWA, the state/federal Water Working Group. In the international river commissions, where along the Danube, Elbe, Oder and Rhine the WFD implementation will be coordinated across borders, environmental organizations have observer status. The WFD, as the first EU-wide mandatory regulation scheme, explicitly uses economic instruments to implement environmental objectives. In particular, measures should be combined as efficiently as possible. RBMP will require a long-term economic analysis of water.

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