Guide to the Water Framework Directive

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 2nd Cycle runs from 2016-2021.

Having one Framework for water quality for all of the 4,933 waterbodies in Ireland, and all the others across Europe, allows us to compare our results, and see what works to help us make sure all our surface and ground water achieves at least Good Status, and no deterioration occurs.

Rivers, lakes, coastal and transitional water can all have 5 statuses:

  • High
  • Good
  • Moderate
  • Poor
  • Bad

Groundwater has just 2 statuses – Good and Poor.

Status is assessed under the following headings:

  • Biological Quality
    • Fish
    • Benthic Invertebrates (These are small animals that live at the bottom of a waterbody or in sediment, and have no backbone)
    • Aquatic Plants
  • Hydromorphological Quality – this is how a river flows, and can be affected by river bank structure, river continuity, or the substrate of the river bed.
  • Physical-chemical quality such as temperature, oxygenation and nutrient conditions
  • Chemical quality for specific pollutants

Assessing Status – one out, all out

An important point to note is that the rule when assessing the above is one out, all out so if a water body is at Good status in 3 of the above categories, but Poor in the 4th, the entire waterbody is judged to be Low it is the lowest result that determines status.

Public Participation

A key part of the Water Framework Directive is Article 14, which requires all member states to genuinely 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 sometimes narrow objectives of the WFD is not the aim – helping communities protect and improve a beautiful and diverse landscape with accessible healthy waterways that are productively used to support livelihoods, habitats and rich wildlife is the goal. However, the WFD can be a powerful tool to help in achieving this goal.

What does ‘good ecological status’ mean, and why does it matter?

Recent articles about the Water Framework Directive

Who is involved?

Quite simply, everyone in Ireland has a role to play. This can be from something as simple as making sure you don’t pollute your local stream, or a local community working together to establish a Rivers Trust to enhance the rivers and lakes in their area, to a Government Department or Agency helping a Minister implement a new policy to help protect and enhance all our waterbodies.

This website has been developed and is maintained by the Environmental Protection Agency, and is a collaboration between the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Local Authority Waters and Communities Office.


Local Authority Waters and Communities Office

The Waters and Communities Office has been established to carry out public consultation and engagement, and to coordinate the activities of all 31 local authorities in areas connected with the Water Framework Directive.


Environmental Protection Agency

The EPA is responsible for coordinating the monitoring, assessment and reporting on the status of our 4829 waterbodies, looking at trends and changes and determining which waterbodies are at risk and what could be causing this, and drafting environmental objectives and measures for each.


Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government

The Department is responsible for making sure that the right policies, regulations and resources are in place to implement the Water Framework Directive, and developing a River Basin Management Plan and Programme of Measures that will be implemented after public consultation, and sign off by the Minister.