Scotland needs to strengthen its water controls in order to comply with the European water directive

The Scottish Executive has published its proposals for a new water environment bill, which will enable Scotland to comply with the European Union’s new Water Framework Directive (see related story), and has outlined a number of areas in which controls need to be strengthened.

According to Rivers, Lochs, Coasts: The Future for Scotland’s Waters, a report outlining the Executive’s proposals, the new bill is intended to include a new river basin planning system in order to assess and manage the condition of waters, which will cover three river basin districts, one in the east, one in the north, and one in the west of the country. The scheme will be overseen by the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) but will require the involvement of public sector bodies and the voluntary sector. Each River Basin Management Plan (RBMP) should be subject to a consultative forum, and would have to be approved by Ministers, says the report.

“Scotland depends on its image as a country with a naturally clean and healthy environment,” said Scotland’s Deputy Minister for the Environment and Rural Development Rhona Brankin. “The condition of our rivers, lochs and coastal waters is key to that image and we want to make sure that reputation is protected.”

The report points out that Scottish legislation is currently not sufficient to control potential threats to water sources, such as pollution, abstraction, impoundment of water behind a dam, or other physical impacts such as river diversion. The principles that should underpin each control regime are proportionality, selectivity, and the desire to streamline controls where necessary, so that insignificant impacts are excluded.

In particular, pollution from diffuse sources needs greater control, says the report, with diffuse agricultural pollution alone expected to be the most significant contributor to water pollution by 2010 (see related story). Training and awareness need to be increased into the causes and consequences of diffuse pollution, and there is also the need to introduce sufficient powers for authorities to take enforcement action where necessary, says the report.

The new bill needs to include a structuring of an abstraction control regime, with separate water resource management strategies for each of the three river basin districts which should be able to identify when there is a problem with water quantity and why. The report also suggests that all abstractors should be obliged to supply basic information about their abstraction, with abstractions over a certain level being only permitted following an application procedure.

Engineering operations, such as bridge construction, river straightening and land reclamation, which have the potential to have a major impact on the water environment, need to be notified to the regulator who would then decide on appropriate forms of control. This would vary from a licence to a requirement to abide by established rules of good practice, and in some circumstances there may be a need to ensure that water bodies are restored to their natural condition.

“We will establish a new system for the management of Scotland’s inland and coastal waters, and ensure, for the first time, that we are able to control all activities that have a harmful impact on the water environment,” said Brankin. “These measures will ensure the environment is protected and will do so in a way that involves and takes account of all interests. To get the system right we need to get the views of everyone with an interest in the water environment. I look forward to the debate that lies ahead.”

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