Over the next 20 years European water companies are to face yet further challenges as the recently adopted EC water framework directive (WFD) is implemented.

During the development of, and in the run up to, its adoption in September 2000, water resource and management specialist WRc was closely involved working for both the UK and French governments on assessing the costs and benefits of the WFD. This is the first EU directive which incorporates water resource issues and it is expected to have a clear impact on water conservation and demand in Europe. Under the WFD, water companies are required, by 2010, to recover the full cost of water services, including environmental and resource costs, in line with the ‘polluter pays’ principle.

In preparing the WFD, EU legislators aimed to establish a framework for the integrated management and protection of inland surface waters, transitional waters, coastal waters and groundwater. The directive aims to;

  • prevent further deterioration and protect and enhance the status of aquatic ecosystems,
  • promote sustainable water use based on long-term protection of available water resources,
  • enhance protection of and improve the aquatic environment through specific measures for the progressive reduction of discharges, emissions and losses of priority substances,
  • ensure the progressive reduction of pollution of groundwater and prevent its further pollution,
  • contribute to mitigating the effects of floods and droughts.
  • Implementation of the WFD will have potentially significant implications for water companies. Costs associated with WFD compliance identified by WRc included administrative costs resulting from the development of and involvement in river basin management working groups. Other costs arose from the monitoring and assessment requirements for the ecological, quantitative and chemical status of surface and groundwaters.

    In a study carried out for the DETR, WRc identified the costs and benefits of implementing the WFD in the UK. This study required an expert interpretation of the requirements of the directive’s proposals and an assessment of the current administrative and technical position. WRc consultants identified the gaps that needed to be filled in order to implement the directive. They then proposed measures to fill these gaps including changes to the administration, data collection, and monitoring in all three regions of the UK. This enabled WRc to estimate the cost implications.

    Although the situation in the UK is good, with a clearly defined centralised supply system and regulatory framework, WRc identified several specific gaps in the existing monitoring systems. There is a need, over the coming years to;

  • provide increased monitoring for toxic micropollutants,
  • develop ecological assessment schemes including the monitoring of biological and physical elements of lakes,
  • introduce additional sites and monitoring determinands for estuaries and coastal waters,
  • extend the network for groundwaters.
  • WRc also led an Anglo-French study on the requirements of the WFD for both countries. The study looked at the directive in terms of monitoring programmes and classification schemes for surface water quality (rivers, lakes and canals). The study considered what developments and changes to current practices might be needed. WRc consultants made a preliminary estimate of the likely costs to each country of these changes.

    By 2010, water-pricing policy must also incorporate incentives for efficient use of water and resources. However, there is an exemption from the polluter pays principle in Eire, as the country charges for water and sewage via the taxation system. The water abstraction licensing scheme detailed in the directive has been welcomed by the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency. Hydroelectric abstraction, in Scotland, has caused rivers to dry up in times of low flow, to such an extent that potato farmers in eastern Scotland are often obliged to irrigate their crops during dry summers. This has further increased the pressures on east-coast streams, sometimes leaving them dry.

    As a general rule, measures to save water are usually drought driven. In mainland Europe, demand management is fragmented across many types of institutions and conservation measures are often localised. WRc is the lead partner in the European Environment Agency’s Topic Centre for Inland Waters. The centre has played a key role in providing technical advice and support while the WFD was being developed. The centre will be a key component of the monitoring network across Europe which will enable member state’s governments to monitor the present state of water resources and any future improvements.

    WRc has played a major role in the development of the WFD. Its knowledge of the directive and strong research and development base means the company is well placed to help both water companies and EU member states to assess the direct implications of the WFD and to start their strategic planning for implementing the directive. WRc will be working in the future with the Environment Agency to help identify issues associated with the implementation of the WFD.

    Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie