Water, water everywhere

IETG's associate director for water technology, Jim Grandison, discusses the Water Framework Directive and the impact it will have on how manufacturers in the UK operate

The Institute of Civil Engineers has described the Water Framework Directive (WFD) as “the biggest thing since the Roman aqueducts”. DEFRA has made it clear that it is the “most substantial piece of European Commission water legislation to date”. But what is it?

The WFD is a legislative framework to protect and improve the quality of all water resources – rivers, lakes, groundwater, transitional and coastal waters – within the European Union. December 2003 was the deadline by which Member States had to incorporate the WFD into national legislation, and while most have achieved this, a few will be several months late. The ten new Member States are expected to enforce the directive by the date of their accession in May.

Further steps are also needed to achieve “good” water quality – as defined by reference to the ecological and chemical status of waters – by the year 2015 at the latest.

How will the WFD affect UK manufacturing?

Within the WFD legislation, various objectives have been established to protect the wider water environment from pollution, especially from dangerous substances – much of which can be attributed to the UK’s manufacturing industry.

Although the legislation has just come into effect, it has been reported that a vast number of civil engineers in the UK have no understanding of the WFD’s implications. Under the monitoring part of the new legislation, surface water will be classified according to chemical and ecological status.

Chemical status will determine if the concentration of certain pollutants will exceed standards that have been set up for that particular water body at European Community level. Industry will have to be very aware of the levels set for local waters.

Objectives have also been established to reduce discharges and emissions and to promote the sustainable use of water resources. These measures will have a major financial implication for UK manufacturing.

Not only will it to have to comply with the legislation created by the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control regime, it will also need to adhere to WFD objectives aimed specifically at improving the status of our water environment.

Early beginnings

Over the years, there has been a variety of legislation aimed at preventing and controlling pollution from industry. Early European legislation first set standards for rivers and lakes back in 1975, culminating in 1980 in the setting of binding quality targets for drinking water. It also included quality objective legislation on fishing waters, shellfish grounds, bathing waters and groundwaters via the Dangerous Substances Directive.

Subsequent legislation designed to address pollution from urban wastewater and agriculture culminated in the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive in 1991; with the Directive for Integrated Pollution and Prevention Control (IPPC), adopted in 1996 to address pollution from large industrial installations.

What current legislation is covered by the WFD?

The directive will encompass the following: the Bathing Water Directive, IPPC, Nitrate Directive, Habitat Directive, Drinking Water Directive and the Urban Wastewater Directive. However, it also replaces the Dangerous Substances Directive, Groundwater Directive, Surface Water Directive, Fresh Fish Water Directive and the Shell Fish Water Directive.

Delivering the Water Framework Directive

The directive takes a combined approach to pollution control, establishing water quality objectives for water bodies and setting emission limit values for pollutants on which to base pollution control mechanisms.

Providing both the Environment Agency and industry with the data necessary to facilitate effective implementation plans to meet the WFD represents a huge task for all stakeholders. The areas covered include:

River basin management plans

The WFD stipulates that waters are managed by river basin – the natural geographical or hydrological unit – instead of by administrative or political boundaries, as presently occurs within many EU countries. This management process must be supported by River Basin Management Plans (RBMP) to include an assessment of the impact of human activity on receiving waters.

Identification of point and diffuse pollution sources

As part of any impact assessments conducted within the UK, the directive requires that estimates and significant point and diffuse pollution sources from urban, agricultural and industrial sources are identified. Addressing point sources alone will not be sufficient to fulfil the desired levels for high water quality.

It goes without saying that this principal is relatively easy to administer in the case of point source pollution, but it will be increasingly difficult to identify the polluter in the case of diffuse pollution.

Administering the rules

The legal elements of the directive will be the responsibility of DEFRA, but the Environment Agency will administer the rules. A question mark centres around one of the
environmental principles of the directive – achieving and maintaining “good water status”. At this stage it is open to debate just what is meant by “good”.
Effective monitoring programmes are going to have to be established, co-ordinated and maintained by the Agency. Individual industrial companies may also have to take responsibility for implementing their own programmes.

The costs for industry

Uncertainty surrounds the cost implications of the WFD. Various bodies have estimated the cost of implementing the directive at £2-16bn; industry within the UK may have to contribute up to £1.2bn. Environmental and social costs are going to be recovered using the polluter pays principal.

While progress has been made on water protection over the years, much effort is still required to get them clean or to keep them clean. This demand is expressed, not only by the scientific community and other experts, but to an ever increasing extent by citizens and environmental
organisations. UK manufacturers should now take up the challenge of water protection and work towards meeting the WFD for the benefit of all Europe’s citizens and its waters.

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