Water Framework Directive finally approved

A major clean-up of Europe’s rivers, lakes and coastal regions should follow the approval of the Water Framework Directive by the EU, says the European Commission.

The directive, which also bans industries from discharging hazardous substances into rivers, will compel EU countries to ensure their waters are up to a reasonable standard within 15 years. (see related story)

According to the directive, discharges of hazardous substances must cease of be phased out within 20 years of their identification as dangerous substances. The legislation will establish a list of substances, which will be revised every four years, that will not be allowed in water discharges.

To guarantee existing protection of groundwater, Member States will have to take all necessary measures to prevent deterioration in the status of all bodies of groundwater and prevent or limit the input of pollutants into groundwater. A ‘daughter directive’ concerned with reversing the increasing trend in groundwater pollution is to be drafted within 24 months.

The directive applies the ‘polluter pays’ principle to water pricing, requiring EU governments to ensure water charges are used as an incentive to use water efficiently from 2010. Ireland achieved an exemption to this requirement to allow it to continue providing water to households free of charge.

The legal enforceability of the directive attracted criticism with Member States only being under an obligation to “aim to achieve” the objectives.

“This is a disaster for the environment, embarrassing for environmental ministers, the environmental Commissioner and the Parliament and a blow to the credentials of the European Union for protecting the Environment,” commented Christian Hey, EU Policy director for the European Environmental Bureau (EEB).

According to the EEB, only the European Court of Justice will be able to decide whether Member States will have an obligation or not to reach objectives – which could take 30 years and leave Member States free to get away with achieving nothing. “Industrial agriculture has got a blank-check to poison the most vulnerable water body, frequently used as drinking water resource, commented EEB’s water campaigner Stefan Scheuer.

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