A year of change

Elaine Coles, head of research at IMS Consulting, says 2006 is shaping up to be a busy year in terms of the legislation governing the water and wastewater sector.

It looks set to be a busy year for stakeholders with an interest in the UK water and wastewater sector and the legislation which governs it. By early February, there were already three consultations under way.

Firstly, the implementation of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) is moving on apace. On 31 January, the UK Technical Advisory Group (UKTAG) - established in 2001 to provide coordinated advice on technical aspects of the implementation of the directive as a partnership of the UK environment and conservation agencies - launched a stakeholder review on its proposals for UK environmental standards and conditions.

Since 2004, under the guidance of the UKTAG, UK environment and conservation agencies have collaborated on a review of existing environmental standards for water quality, water flow and levels, as well as developing systems for assessing the physical structure and condition of rivers, lakes, estuaries and coasts.
The main aim of the current review is to obtain comments and feedback on the scientific and technical basis of UKTAG's proposed approach. UKTAG is seeking comment in particular on these questions:
  • Is the report clear in explaining how UKTAG has reviewed and developed the proposed environmental standards and conditions?
  • Does the approach taken, as identified in the report and supporting technical documents use the best science currently available?
  • Does the approach taken identify the environmental standards and conditions required to achieve Good Ecological Status?
  • What further research and development is required to strengthen the approach over the first cycle of river basin planning?
The deadline for responses to the UKTAG review is 18 April, 2006. Launched by DEFRA in December, the latest stage in its implementation invites comments on draft River Basin Planning Guidance for the Environment Agency on the practical implementation of the WFD under the Water Environment (Water Framework Directive, England and Wales) Regulations 2003 with a deadline of 7 March for final responses (www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/wfd).

The list of 100-plus consultee organisations approached by DEFRA gives some idea of the extent of the directive's impact across business and industry.

The scope of the consultation process in itself is a good indication of far-reaching consequences of the directive. It is undoubtedly set to have a major impact on a wide variety of stakeholders, many of whom are starting now to get seriously to grips with its wider ramifications. The responses and eventual outcome of the consultations should undoubtedly make for interesting reading. At first glance,many of the organisations would appear to have differing, if not even conflicting interests.

Add in the separate consultation on water company water resources plan regulations also launched by DEFRA on 31 January with an even longer list of consultees (www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/wrmr) due to finish in April 2006, and the UK water and wastewater sectors - both in terms of providers and end-users - may well see their operational landscape further altered by the end of the year.

The consultation process gives all stakeholders a real opportunity to play an active role in the decision-making process on legislation which is likely to affect them significantly in both economic and operational terms - albeit as yet unquantified. At the same time, however, it also poses DEFRA with the challenge of synthesising the views of a disparate range of organisations.

Many of the organisations involved in these separate consultations have already started to take a detailed look at the likely impact of the directive and other upcoming legislation on their own water and resource use. The issues raised will also be the subject of debate at this year's ET2006 (www.et-expo.co.uk), the UK's leading environmental technology and management services exhibition. The show takes place from 16 to 18 May at the NEC, Birmingham.

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