Analysis along the riverbanks

Michael Scott of SWIG reports on monitoring and measurement implications of the WFD

A SWIG workshop has concluded the Water Framework Directive (WFD) will have a big impact on the water industry and its suppliers. Much is being done across Europe to address the monitoring and measurement challenges but considerable work remains. The WFD came into force on December 22, 2000. The inland definition of river basins is complete and the seaward extent is currently defined as one nautical mile, but may possibly be extended to three nautical miles at a later date. The Environment Agency (EA) has specific duties associated with its role as competent authority for implementation within England and Wales. Its first deliverables include:

The WFD introduces ecological environmental objectives. Its other major theme is to minimise and prevent emissions of priority hazardous substances. Water body status has to be reported on two maps, one showing ecological status based on five classes, and a second showing chemical status based on pass or fail Environmental Quality Standards (EQS) for priority hazardous substances.

A major cost will be sampling and analysing for these substances, which in many cases will have lower EQS than at present. This cost is a serious concern for the EA.

The water companies will have to take action in AMP5. The EA is working closely with water companies and other industries to ensure appropriate WFD requirements are included in the planning cycles of all industries. However, some of the vital bits of information are not yet available, for example the EA is awaiting the results of the negotiations on chemical status for the Groundwater Daughter Directive.

The EU is currently generating guidance documents, which are then being turned into UK relevant documents. The EA has identified some 7,000 water bodies in England and Wales comprising 6,000 rivers, 430 lakes, 134 estuarine, 84 coastal and 356 groundwater bodies. They have been assessed in stage one of the characterisation activity. It is likely these water bodies may be amalgamated or divided for monitoring and management purposes, depending on more detailed analysis of pressures and impacts. The water bodies will require status reports and there is debate on how pollution in one part of such a body will be treated. The WFD emphasis is on ecological and physico-chemical quality, so will a small incident in one corner mean the whole body is considered to be polluted or over abstracted? The WFD requires member states provide information on those that are at risk/not at risk of failing their objectives. There will be a need to show monitoring and resultant practices are reducing pollution. It might take decades to get back to acceptable levels in some areas, since diffuse pollution is going to be a major challenge. For example, it is known that 30 years of nitrate application will take a long time to leach into nearby water courses.

On top of this, ecologists will have to define a 'wetland' or other area of special ecological interest and to show the dynamics so natural changes can be de-convoluted from changes caused by pollution. Self-monitoring is now being accepted as admissible evidence. To meet the requirements there is a need for better, more efficient monitoring and pro-active innovation on the methodologies - starting now. EU law might be breached if it can be shown appropriate monitoring is not available before the data has been provided to interested parties. Furthermore, when the Aarhus agreement is ratified, the data must be made available to the public and presented in a form that is understandable. The courts will now take into account the pre-amble when considering a case and this is a new approach, which imposes new burdens on understanding the quality of data. Article 9 - monitoring, says:

  • the EA must give effect to the provisions of the directive,
  • monitoring programmes to be established by December 2006.

So the bottom line is: Defra carries the can and the EA must deliver. Under Article 16, a committee has been set up to establish standard methods for monitoring and is finalising submissions from expert groups throughout Europe. UK methods are strongly represented in the final selections, in fact, the committee noted UK methods are at the forefront of cost effective analytical technology. The WFD is risk-based legislation. It is widely assumed a risk-based approach will minimise costs but some think a number of the stakeholders Defra consults may press for a precautionary principle. The cause of pollution is not always obvious. Some people consider management of all parts of the pollution industry will need to balance levels of resource and this will require a much more holistic approach to monitoring the environment.

There will almost certainly be a need for more co-operation on data sharing but this will require setting up a co-operation structure. The questions are by whom and at whose cost? Without a holistic approach there are potential risks that point sources may be over controlled in order to compensate for the lack of effective diffuse pollution regulation. Therefore, although the WFD is water-directed, it also has land and water management implications, since agriculture is a major cause of diffuse pollution.

For groundwater monitoring there is a need to establish a network of sampling points to enable representative samples to identify long and short-term trends. The problem is, what is the benchmark - historic data? Each groundwater catchment has to be linked with the river basin management plans but these are only now being developed and there are clear problems in merging disparate adjoining interests. Monitoring issues:

  • the nature of the temporal and spatial variability of the target determinand affects the required sampling strategy,
  • it is critical to know what a chosen monitoring method monitors in relation to the ecological requirement,
  • data/monitoring is expensive and purpose needs to be defined in order to optimise a strategy,
  • high-spatial coverage monitoring techniques may be more applicable than static high-temporal frequency devices to meet the analytical challenges of the WFD. The EA is looking for new monitoring technologies that can minimise the cost of monitoring large areas of water for low levels of priority hazardous pollutants on a risk basis and will publish a guidance list of determinands and monitoring performance requirements, including limits of detection. These spatial monitoring challenges are not confined to the UK, they will affect the entire EU and will be difficult to meet with present analytical practices.

SWIG's board of directors has taken the view these challenges can best be met by developing radical new sensing technologies and the UK's sensor technology base has the expertise to provide them. The SWIG board, with the EA's and several water companies' support, is preparing a proposal for funding under the DTI's second call of the technology programme, Sensors and Sensor Systems for Industrial and Environmental Applications.

The call expresses a desire to reinforce Knowledge Transfer Networks and SWIG is uniquely placed to facilitate research consortia based on the outcomes of SWIG workshops - this report on the outcome of the WFD workshop being a prime example. SWIG is already used by many parts of the water and waste treatment and environmental industries as a general purpose port of call for the finding of partners and the board's proposal will seek to reinforce this resource.

The WFD is all about sustainability, for example, the securing of Europe's environment and economy to enhance the quality of life now and for future generations. Key deadlines are approaching and it is widely acknowledged much is yet to be done. SWIG sees it as a unique opportunity to stimulate the nation's world-class expertise in biosensor technology to develop innovative new products to meet the directive's sustainability challenges and, in doing so, create a new UK industry with a high export potential.



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