Fluid assets

Jim Grandison of IETG looks at the Water Framework Directive since its introduction four years ago, and explains how it will impact on industry

Glance through an environmental magazine and you're likely to find an article about the EU Water Framework Directive. Introduced in December 2000, this legislative framework is designed to protect and improve the quality of water resources within the EU and guard the water environment against pollution and deterioration.

It is now one year since the deadline by which the original EU members had to incorporate the WFD into their legislation. However, with the accession of ten new Member States, the directive today has far-reaching implications for all 25 EU members.

These implications have already made themselves felt within the UK and there seems to be a reasonable level of awareness among the obvious stakeholders such as the water, utility and agriculture sectors. But much ignorance still remains, for example among domestic and recreational users, and about issues such as contaminants from highway runoff. Also, there is uncertainty about what organisations must do to be compliant, who is responsible, who pays and the penalties for failing to comply.

Whose responsibility?

Implementation of the directive across the UK is a devolved matter, but in England responsibility ultimately lies with the secretary of state for DEFRA, which also has responsibility for co-ordinating timely transposition of the directive and for dealing with infractions. Any fines imposed by the European Court following infringement cases are paid by the administration responsible.

But this raises two thorny questions, especially in the case of diffuse pollution: firstly, how to establish the source of contamination, and secondly, determining who is accountable.

The Environment Agency has been appointed as the competent authority to oversee implementation of the WFD in England and Wales. The result is that the Agency has statutory duties to administer the rules of the directive and ensure compliance by 2015. Its tasks relate to key implementation duties such as the production of River Basin Management Plans and co-ordinating a programme of measures to meet the directive's objectives.

The WFD timetable is ambitious and poses technical challenges. Many of Europe's river basins are international, crossing administrative and territorial borders, therefore a common understanding and approach is crucial to the success of the directive. To address the challenges in a co-ordinated way, the European Commission set up a Common Implementation Strategy to help develop a shared understanding of the issues and to pool effort and expertise. Member States must produce River Basin Management Plans for all river basin districts and establish monitoring programmes that use biological and chemical parameters. They must also set objectives and clear deadlines to meet the environmental objectives within the directive.

To further aid the long term sustainable management of water, member states must allocate water sources to river basin districts. These refer to the area of land from which all surface and groundwaters flow into the sea at a single river-mouth or estuary, and include coastal waters up to one nautical mile beyond the baseline from which inland waters are measured. Each competent authority must produce a management plan for each RBD by 2009, and England and Wales are likely to have 11 districts.

AMP4 and beyond

The fourth round of asset management planning (AMP4) begins in April 2005 and runs until 2010. During this period, more emphasis is likely to be placed on ecological impacts. While similar studies took place during AMP3, the need for further research will be dictated by the requirements of the WFD. However, as there has been little review to date on the effects of implemented improvements based on these studies, their effectiveness remains unknown.

Some have argued the AMP five-year programme is too short for effective long-term planning and should be replaced with a programme better suited to the longer term, holistic requirements of the WFD.

Ofwat asked water companies to include an outline of what they need to do to meet the WFD in their AMP4 submissions, but this became problematic as there is still uncertainty about the classification of "good water" status.

It may be that definitive classification is impossible until 2012 when the RBMPs are operational and hard data is available, but this in turn would give water companies only three years to implement and invest in works to achieve the status demanded by the WFD by 2015.

Challenges ahead

The WFD raises shared challenges for everyone, especially in mainland Europe where RBDs that cross national boundaries must be assigned to an international river basin district, where the Member States involved assume responsibility for co-ordinating its implementation.

Although this may work in principal, it remains to be seen how effective it is for IRBDs such as the River Neisse, which flows through Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic. While Germany has been implementing EU legislation for over 20 years, Poland and the Czech Republic are recent entrants to the EU and are likely to be lagging behind in water quality issues.

Closer to home, there are uncertainties about what lies ahead for the UK water industry. In terms of the financial implications of implementing the WFD it is important to balance the risk and cost of improvements so that the limited funding available can be used to achieve the maximum environmental benefit. The cost of implementing the WFD has been estimated at £1.9-9bn with perhaps 40% of the investment coming from the water companies in direct infrastructure and management spending.

Point and diffuse pollution - who's guilty?

Environmental and social costs will be recovered using the polluter pays principle. Much research has been done within the water industry to establish quality standards and monitor protocol for priority substances and hazardous substances. Some of these substances are found in surface runoffs that currently discharge directly into watercourses without any form of treatment. Responsibility to provide treatment is outside the jurisdiction of the water industry and may fall on the shoulders of local governments, the Environment Agency and other industry sectors. Meeting the rigorous PHS and PS levels for sewage discharges is likely to mean massive investment at wastewater treatment plants, paid for by the water industry. But as the sector does not make these substances, there seems to be a watertight argument for the polluter to pay and take responsibility for costs incurred. One of the fundamental questions posed by the WFD is how to determine responsibility for point and diffuse pollution. While it is relatively simple to identify and control emissions from point sources, the nature of diffuse sources means that identifying emissions carried by surface runoff is more difficult. In urban areas, for example, runoff is collected through numerous gutters, pipes and sewers before being discharged at one or more points to receiving waters. This amalgamation of stormwater and industrial/household point source discharges in combined sewers makes it difficult to define urban stormwater and diffuse sources. And as pollution comes from all areas of UK industry, establishing the source (and who pays for the clean up) is problematic. If there is runoff from a construction site, who should take responsibility - the developer, local authority, or the construction workers themselves? Similar scenarios could be imagined in cases of deforestation, runoff from concentrated animal feeding operations, wetland drainage or discharge from storage tanks and chemical storage piles. Potentially the WFD can and will affect all areas of UK industry. It remains to be seen how strong the legislation is at getting people to pay up.

An integrated approach

Integrated water management is a key requisite of the WFD and state-of-the-art water analysis and information management will help provide cost-effective and bespoke measurement services that are directly applicable to the directive.

Pollution source identification and monitoring, analysis of flood and drought problems, assessment of point and diffuse sources and establishment of limits and standards are all offered by water management specialists. The data they gather provides a coherent overview of environmental issues and problem areas, and can save companies both time and money. Moreover, in terms of WFD compliance, the data meets the requirement for knowledge of how natural processes and human activity impact on groundwater and surface water.

The WFD calls for interaction between stakeholders and all water use sectors, be they industry, agriculture, water supply and sanitation, energy, environment or recreation. Understanding of the legislation in the UK seems to be a mixed affair, and while some already have measures in place for managing water and its impact on the wider environment, others still view the WFD as a grey area and have yet to recognise its potential interface with their business.


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