‘We need innovation’

The Environment Industries Commission is actively involved in implementing the Water Framework Directive, and is pushing to put it quickly into effect. But, it says, the government should be incentivising new technologies.

The Water Framework Directive (WFD) sets out ambitious goals for the protection and improvement of water quality across the European Union (EU). It came into force on December 22, 2000, and represents the rationalisation and updating of existing water legislation to form a single coherent system for water management.

The Environmental Industries Commission’s (EIC) Water Pollution Control Working Group, which represents more than 80 companies supplying water pollution control technologies and services, has been actively engaged with the implementation of the directive in the UK.

EIC has lobbied for Defra to speed up the implementation of the directive – rather than waiting for the last minute – and has called for the measures to move towards compliance with the directive to be included in the next Periodic Review.

Under the directive, all inland and coastal waters in the 27 EU member states (with the exception of artificial and heavily modified water bodies) are required to reach good status by 2015, wherever technically feasible without disproportionate cost. The classification scheme includes five status categories: high, good, moderate, poor and bad. Under this scheme, high-status waters are represented by the biological, chemical and morphological conditions associated with no or very low human pressure.

The WFD assesses water quality in terms of deviation from surface water body type-specific reference conditions as defined in the directive.

The definition of good status includes two elements – good ecological status and good chemical status – supported by appropriate morphological habitat and hydrological regime. While the aims of the directive at a high level are clearly stated, how these will be delivered still remains uncertain – in some cases it will be business as usual but in others innovative and quite different solutions may be required.

The directive will only require rivers with a catchment area of more then 10km2 and lakes with a surface area greater than 0.5km2 to be included. This means it will only cover 31% of lakes and 7% of rivers in England and Wales.

The Environment Agency (EA) and Natural England recently produced a paper on adding small waters of biodiversity significance to the scope of the directive. But including smaller rivers and lakes will have little impact on the water pollution control sector.

Good status

To achieve good status by 2015, the directive requires the identification and characterisation of river basin districts in each member state within which environmental targets are set. For each district, a river basin management plan must be prepared detailing the programmes of measures required to achieve the environmental objectives.

The EA recently launched a second consultation on river basin planning, which sets out what the agency believes are the most significant issues that face each river basin district.

The river basin district system of management requires definition and characterisation of river basin districts by member states, as well as a review of the impact of human activity and an economic analysis of water use. Programmes must be established for the monitoring of water status including volume, level, flow, and ecological and chemical status. A register of protected areas within each river basin district must also be established and all water bodies used for the abstraction of drinking water must be identified.

Using the information gathered during the characterisation, analysis and monitoring stages, member states are required to produce a river basin management plan for each river basin district. This must be reviewed and updated on a six-year cycle. The first cycle will run from 2009 to 2015 and the second cycle from 2015 to 2021.

Publication of revised River Basin Management Plans is therefore required in 2015, 2021, 2027 and so on.

Among other things, the plans must list the environmental objectives for that district and for each water body; justify how and where alternative, possibility less stringent, objectives have been used; and summarise the programme of measures for achieving objectives.

Decisions about the use of alternative objectives must include consideration of the technical feasibility and the costs and benefits of implementing the measures, which would be necessary to achieve the directive’s objectives. An iterative approach is, therefore, built in to the river basin planning process: identify objectives for water bodies, consider the costs and benefits of achieving those objectives and in light of costs and benefits, reassess objectives and consider the use of alternative objectives.

Complementary legislation has been developed in order to meet the requirements of the WFD.

The new Groundwater Directive came into force on January 16, 2007, and a proposal for a Priority Substances Directive, which “aims to ensure a high level of protection against risks to or via the aquatic environment stemming from 33 priority (chemical) substances by setting environmental quality standards”.

The Council of Ministers reached a political agreement on the proposed Directive on Priority Substances, which will now go to the European Parliament for a second reading. The directive is not expected to be finalised until 2008.

The directive is likely to have implications for businesses whose activities affect the water environment. This includes all organisations holding an abstraction licence or discharging directly to the water environment or to the sewer via a trade effluent, such as the water industry, agriculture, and development and construction industries.

Priority substances

Following implementation of the programmes of measures in 2009, the full impact of the directive will be felt. And businesses need to be aware of how the legislation might affect them. It is likely regulators will impose additional conditions on discharge consents and review existing discharge consent conditions, particularly with regard to the list of priority hazardous substances.

Affected businesses might be required to improve on-site treatment of effluents before discharge into the environment, incurring financial cost.

Diffuse pollution from agriculture or run-off from industrial sites is also an important water quality issue. And it is likely that land owners and occupiers will face a legal obligation to control such pollution in order to achieve environmental objectives.

There is still uncertainty surrounding how the high-level objectives of the directive are to be met. Uncertainty is unavoidable in any assessment of future options and it is likely to exist in four areas:

  • The gap that must be closed in order to meet the specified WFD objective
  • The effectiveness of measures
  • The costs of measures
  • The source of the problem

It is not particularly reassuring that the main message that is clearly evident from the Preliminary Cost Effectiveness Analysis of implementing the directive is uncertainty. Managing and understanding this uncertainty is, therefore, paramount in delivering efficient River Basin Management Plans.

It is essential that the EA and Defra engage EIC and other relevant bodies in the process of moving the work forward, particularly in the consideration of innovative technologies.

When considering uncertainty in the Cost Effectiveness Analysis it is important to identify whether the level of uncertainty is such that it may affect the selection of the most cost-effective measure or combination of measures for meeting the objectives of the directive.

To do this, the potential range of costs and effectiveness for each measure should be considered, along with a best estimate for each measure. This will form basis for the judgement that must be made.

The uncertainty should be taken into account in making those judgements through considering the following factors:

  • The risk of failing to achieve the objectives because the measures prove to be less effective than assumed, or the risk over-achieving through the use of unnecessarily stringent measures
  • The risk of imposing unnecessary costs by rejecting a lower-cost option in favour of a more certain but more expensive option
  • The costs of the additional measures that would be required if an option was selected which later proved less effective than assumed
  • The level of stakeholder support for the different options

EIC believes it is crucial to ensure that the costs of delivering the objectives of the directive are not overestimated and, in turn, that the benefits are not underestimated as this will significantly undermine the case for action. Also, it is crucial that the government identifies the huge potential benefits of the directive in stimulating environmental technologies.

The EIC believes that the measures outlined in the Preliminary Cost Effectiveness Analysis for implementing the directive are generally based on tried and trusted technology. It says its members believe the government needs to consider ways of incentivising industry to explore technologies that may be able to deal with problems further towards source.

It is proposed that pilot studies are done on developing technologies, and there will be a need to engage engineers and scientists in the process to establish UK companies as forerunners in the field and promote UK industry in this area.

Simon Clark, associate director at Entec UK, is with the EIC Water Pollution Control Working Group. Merlin Hyman is director of the EIC. T: 0207 935 1675

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