Rivers trusts are charities, established by local people to look…
The Water Policy Advisory Committee: joined-up policy-making and the Water Framework Directive
In 2014, the Minister for the Environment introduced the European Union (Water Policy) Regulations 2014 which set out a new governance structure to achieve better implementation of the Water Framework Directive in Ireland. A number of reviews of the river basin management plans (RBMPs) produced under the first Water Framework Directive (WFD) cycle in Ireland concluded that implementation was fragmented. The 2014 Regulations therefore introduced a much more integrated governance structure where clear responsibilities were assigned to the EPA, the local authorities and the Minister.
The Regulations also established the Water Policy Advisory Committee (WPAC) which brings together the key policy-setting national organisations that impact on Ireland’s delivery of the WFD. The functions of WPAC are to advise the Minister on policy in relation to:
- the preparation of RBMPs;
- WFD environmental objectives;
- programmes of measures to achieve these objectives; and
- other related matters concerning the protection and management of the aquatic environment and water resources.
The WPAC has been meeting on a quarterly basis since 2014 and it allows a range of Government Departments and agencies to consider the full range of policy measures, legislation and European Directives that potentially impact on WFD implementation in Ireland. It ensures that the 3 governance tiers set out in the 2014 Regulations align well. Those tiers are as follows:
- the Minister is ultimately responsible for the setting of environmental objectives, and for making programmes of measures and RBMPs;
- the EPA leads on the science that underlies WFD implementation, and it advises the Minister on the roles set out for him above; and
- local authorities are responsible for regional coordination, public consultation, and the implementation of RBMPs and programmes of measures in their functional areas.
WPAC is chaired by a senior representative of the Minister, currently Ms. Maria Graham, Assistant Secretary, and the public bodies represented on WPAC are as follows:
- Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine;
- Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources;
- Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht;
- Department of Health;
- Environmental Protection Agency;
- County and City Management Association;
- Office of Public Works;
- Commissioners for Energy Regulation (who regulate public water and wastewater services); and
- Such other organisation or body as the Minister may determine from time to time.
WPAC also invites external stakeholders to present to it and to discuss water management issues. Previous external invitees have included the Sustainable Water Network (SWAN) and Irish Water. In order to develop awareness of its work, reports of WPAC meetings are published on the Department’s website (available at environ.ie).
In 2016, WPAC will focus on:
- the issues raised during the public consultation on significant water management issues in Ireland;
- the preparation of draft second cycle RBMPs by December 2016 (which will then be consulted on in 2017); and
- advising the Minister with regard to a regulatory regime for water abstraction.
Successful implementation of the WFD can only be achieved by a whole-of-government, inter-agency and inter-sectoral approach. WPAC is an important forum for teasing out the interplay between the many issues which arise seeking to preserve and improve the quality of our inland, estuarine and coastal waters, and then to make appropriate recommendations to the Minister. While this cross-cutting approach takes more time than the traditional “top-down” directional approach to policy-making I firmly believe that it will ultimately produce better long-terms results.