The EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) is an important piece of environmental legislation which aims to improve our water quality. It applies to rivers, lakes, groundwater, estuaries and coastal waters.
The Water Framework Directive was agreed by all individual EU member states in 2000, and its first cycle ran from 2009 – 2015. The Directive runs in 6-year cycles, so the second cycle runs from 2016 – 2021.
Having one framework for water quality for all 4,933 waterbodies in Ireland, and all those in Europe, allows us to compare our results. By doing this, we can see what works, which helps us to make sure all our surface and ground water achieves at least ‘good’ status, and no deterioration occurs.
Rivers, lakes, estuaries and coastal waters can be awarded one of five statuses:
Groundwater has just two statuses – Good and Poor.
Ecological Status – Biological Quality Elements
Ecological status for surface water bodies is primarily driven by the Biological Quality Elements (BQEs). These are:
- Aquatic flora
- Macroinvertebrates and Phytoplankton
Supporting Ecological Status
Standards for general physico-chemical parameters, specific pollutants and hydromorphology are set at levels in order that they are sufficient to support the status of the BQEs. Physico-chemical assessment looks at elements such as temperature and the level of nutrients, which support the biology. Hydromorphological quality looks at water flow, sediment composition and movement, continuity (in rivers) and the structure of physical habitat.
Chemical status is defined as either: ‘Good’ or ‘Failing to achieve Good’. Chemical status is based on environmental quality standards for annual average and maximum allowable concentrations of certain Priority Substances.
A key part of the Water Framework Directive is Article 14, which requires all member states to engage with the people who live, work and play in a catchment. To do this, it is important to understand how local communities live in their catchments and use their water. Therefore, it is critical that local communities are involved in management and decision making related to protecting and, where necessary, improving their water resources.
Ultimately, meeting the objectives of the WFD is not the aim – the real goal is to help communities to protect and improve a beautiful and diverse landscape with accessible healthy waterways that are productively used to support livelihoods, habitats and rich wildlife.
The WFD can be a powerful tool in helping to achieve this goal.