Survey shows poor implementation of water framework directive

European Governments are doing little to implement changes to achieve the 'good status' ratings for all waters as required under the Water Framework Directive (WFD), environmental groups have claimed.

A survey conducted by the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and WWF on the implementation of key elements of the WFD – including the national transposition of EU legal requirements, public participation, and assessment of the environmental condition and economics of water usage – found that a majority of respondents gave their governments a negative rating on water management.

“Only three countries – Ireland, Finland and Romania – seem to have established water authorities with sufficient competences to deal with all water problems at the river basin level as required by EU law. Only eight countries include the overall WFD objective of achieving ‘good water status’ by 2015 in their national laws,” said Stefan Scheuer, EU Policy Director at the EEB. “The vast majority of countries fail to establish proper legal and administrative provisions to improve water management as required by EU law. This is bad news for the environment, for the credibility of Europe and for the use of taxpayers’ money. These countries risk conviction in Courts and will have wasted valuable time in terms of fulfilling the law’s 2015 goal.”

The survey highlighted the major problems that countries have in assessing and communicating the state of their aquatic environment and the economy of water uses. Only Estonia was able to provide figures on the environmental and resource costs of water use as required by European law.

“We wonder how cost-effective water management decisions are taken in the other countries without such information,” Mr Scheur added.

As a result of the survey, WWF and EEB have suggested that:

  • Environmental groups should launch complaints at national courts and Commission level about bad legal practice in WFD implementation;
  • The European Commission should thoroughly check the quality of national laws, especially respective administrative arrangements and environmental objectives, and start infringement procedures without delay; and
  • Member States should dramatically increase investments in efficient and sustainable water management, train “water managers” to deal with non-specific aspects of their work and continue and build on good examples of public participation.

    On this last point, the UK, for one, is trying to attract more specially trained water engineers through a joint programme between Defra, the Environment Agency and the Institute of Civil Engineers (see related story).

    By David Hopkins

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