Administering the WFD

John Cima of WRc puts the impact of the WFD on utilities in context

WRc is involved in a number of projects dealing with the implications and requirements of the joined aspects of the implementation of the Water Framework Directive (WFD). These include production of reporting guidance documents and development and implementation of the electronic reporting framework on behalf of the European Commission (EC), an exercise for the Environment Agency (EA) to identify the effect of the WFD on its long-term IT requirements and the development of a GIS-based tool to enable local authorities to manage and maintain highway drainage.

It is clear the WFD does not simply relate to the standards for water protection - it impacts upon the organisational and procedural aspects of water management and therefore constitutes a major change for the management of the environment. The consequences of this new approach to environmental management are extremely wide-ranging and will impact a large number of stakeholders, including utilities. Within the UK, the EA and Defra will be responsible for administering the requirements of the directive through the establishment of a Programme of Measures, which is designed to address situations where the status of water bodies falls, or is at risk of falling, below acceptable criteria.

Information must be gathered to determine where issues or problems are arising, so solutions can be introduced. Thereafter, monitoring programmes will determine the effectiveness of these measures in improving the quality of the water environment. From the utilities perspective, the directive will require interaction with the EA and Defra on a number of levels:

  • as information providers for licensed or unlicensed activities,
  • as participants in a consultation process,
  • as organisations required to carry out improvements,
  • as organisations needing to access general information. In broad terms, this will require the following input from utilities:
  • the provision of compliance reporting information (discharges, etc). Information that is likely to be required in a standard electronic format or alternatively will need to be managed through self-auditing,
  • involvement in the consultation process, especially where areas deemed to be failing or at risk of failure relate to an activity undertaken by the utility - this will include determining the most appropriate action and the implementation and management of such actions as well as the subsequent monitoring of its effectiveness.

The WFD will require operational information to be gathered to meet the needs of the directive and then managed and disseminated to confirm compliance. The planning process will need to take account of the need to comply and provide solutions as required. The implications of the associated costs will need to be considered not only in the final solution but also of partaking in the consultation process. The exact requirements of the directive are not yet finalised as the various reporting requirements and implications of the framework are still being determined. The EC is actively encouraging the use of electronic means such as XML and internet-based technologies for the provision and dissemination of compliance data relating to the WFD. The UK government is also actively promoting the use of such technologies, especially XML, for the transfer of data to and from government bodies. As a result, utilities will increasingly be required to provide their compliance and monitoring data in XML format. As part of a commission with the EA's data standards policy team, WRc has helped develop a schema for the exchange of point time series hydrometric data.

With new telemetry systems, a new hydrometric archive and a new river flow forecasting system at the EA, the opportunity to agree on a standard presented itself. The developers of these new systems and the main external players devised a common XML transfer format and associated schema.

The purpose of the schema is to enable the exchange of environmental time series point data. The schema will be used for some data exchange requirements within the WFD and is on trial with Thames Water. The data exchange routes the schema address are shown in Table 1. The EC work with WRc is to develop the electronic reporting framework for the WFD. This is based on Oracle Spatial and will provide the commission with a mechanism for supporting the 2004 reporting obligation and will ensure member states report river basin information in a consistent format. The resulting dataset will enable the commission to easily assess and compare compliance and depict the water environment throughout the EU. The member states can either submit information through a web-based forms interface or through a pull upload facility. All data exchange will adhere to defined XML and GML standards and will thus be validated against structured rules.

Following an initial validation, the information is sense checked before being prepared for general availability. Thereafter, public access web-based mapping facilities will be available to both view and query information. The solution benefits both the regulator and the regulated by reducing and simplifying data input, providing a common base for assessment and enabling easy and consistent dissemination.

Within the context of the utilities the question that comes to mind is 'would electronic submission suit the regulatory reporting requirements of Ofwat?' or 'would such a solution suit the UK market?' The answer comes from considering the benefits - electronic reporting could simplify and standardise the submissions process, a common data source will simplify the analysis and publication of submissions, an interoperability analysis will facilitate transparency between organisations and a common definition of improvement projects and monitoring returns will enable common auditable performance assessment.


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