Green groups, ministers welcome groundwater directive

The text of the new EU groundwater directive, finally agreed between the European Parliament and Council, was welcomed by the British government and environmental groups.

The Directive sets out to protect groundwater – a major source of Europe’s drinking water – from agricultural and chemical pollution. It forms part of the Water Framework Directive, and has been the subject of heated debate between environmentalists, agricultural lobbies and others (see related story) since it was first proposed in 2003.

Under the final version of the text agreed between MEPs and the European Council last week European states will be obliged to prevent harmful chemicals like pesticides from entering groundwater. They will also be required to observe a legally binding limit of 50mg of nitrate per litre for all groundwater – a measure that many governments initially opposed and pressed for an exemption for agriculture.

European environmental groups welcomed the fact that the directive will be legally binding on a European level and that it will cover farming pollution – a major source of toxic chemicals threatening groundwater.

Stefan Scheuer of the European Environmental Bureau said: “Members of the European Parliament have successfully fought off attempts by governments to re-nationalise groundwater protection. They ensured that preventing pollution and achieving quality standards is robust and legally-binding.

“Without this kind of EU-wide and legally-binding approach, countries would have been left exposed to pressure from powerful, globalised businesses.”

Although the directive requires states to prevent known hazardous substances from entering groundwater, and adopt a precautionary approach to limit all others, it does allow for exemptions. These will “ensure that this requirement is workable and proportionate,” said UK environment minister Ian Pearson.

The agreed text of the directive, expected to be formally adopted by the European Parliament later this year, “recognises that Member States should direct their protection efforts to where it really matters, and that measures must be practical and consistent with other legislation,” he said.

“Groundwater is an immensely important resource, inextricably linked to our use of the landscape, from agriculture, to industry, transport, and the domestic water supply,” he said.

He noted the conclusions of a recent Environment Agency report on groundwater protection (see related story) which found 81% of England’s groundwater quality to be worsening.

The report “highlighted how vulnerable groundwater is to pollution. It is essential that measures to protect it are effective and proportionate,” Ian Pearson said.

Goska Romanowicz

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