EU court takes firm line on water pollution

The European court of justice has insisted on a broad EU definition of eutrophication in a ruling condemning France for breaching the EU urban wastewater treatment directive. The French government had disputed the definition in an attempt to justify designating relatively few "sensitive areas" under the 1991 law.

In a case that goes back five years, the European Commission insisted that France should have designated a series of inland and coastal waters as sensitive to eutrophication. It also sought to establish that France should have applied stricter sewage treatment standards in areas that were, or should have been, classed as sensitive.

There are four EU criteria determining when there is eutrophication: the enrichment of water by nutrients, accelerated growth of plant life, undesirable disturbance of the balance of organisms, and deterioration of water quality.

Contrary to French arguments, the court states, “any proliferation” of algae or the like constitutes disturbance of the balance of the aquatic ecosystem. And this disturbance is undesirable not only if it harms immediate flora and fauna, but also if it produces “nuisances” due to proliferation of algae or severe outbreaks of toxic or harmful phytoplankton.

Also contrary to the government’s contention, water quality deterioration concerns not only harmful effects on ecosystems, the court rules. Rather, it can include “any… change” that “prevents or limits water uses”, including deterioration of colour, appearance, taste or odour.

Republished with permission of Environment Daily

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