The Water Framework Directive
Applies to – UK
The Water Framework Directive (WFD) came into force on 22nd December 2000 and was put into UK law (transposed) in 2003 and is designed to improve and integrate how water bodies are managed throughout Europe.
The purpose of the Water Framework Directive is to establish a framework for the protection of inland surface waters, estuaries, coastal waters and groundwater. The framework for delivering the Directive is through the River Basin Management Plan (RBMP).
The UK has been split into several River Basin Districts (RBDs). Each RBD has been characterised into smaller management units known as Water Bodies. The surface Water Bodies may be rivers, lakes, estuary or coastal.
To achieve the purpose of the Directive of protecting all water bodies, Environmental Objectives have been set. These Environmental Objectives are reported for each water body in the RBMP. The progress towards delivery of the objectives will be reported on by the relevant competent authorities (e.g. Environment agency, SEPA etc) at the end of each six-year River Basin Planning cycle.
Heavily modified or Artificial water bodies
It is recognised in the Directive that physical alterations support the socio-economic use of a water body for a particular purpose (e.g. water storage, flood defence or navigation). In this case the water body may be designated as a Heavily Modified Water Body (HMWB).
Artificial Water Bodies (AWBs) are those that have been constructed for a specific use (e.g. a reservoir). Any of the surface water body types (rivers, coastal, lake or transitional) can be designated as heavily modified or artificial.
AWBs and HMWBs are subject to alternative environmental objective than ordinary water bodies hence they have been clearly identified in each RBD and will be classified differently.
The achievement of the Environmental Objectives is dependent upon the current ‘Ecological Status’ or ‘Ecological Potential’ (for HMWBs and AWBs) of the water body.
Ecological Status is classified in all water bodies, expressed in terms of five classes – high, good, moderate, poor or bad.
These classes are established based on elements including:
- Biological – communities of plants and animals;
- Physico-chemical – temperature and the level of nutrients (which support biology); and
- Hydro-morphological – water flow, sediment composition and movement, continuity (in rivers) and the structure of physical habitat.
The overall Ecological Status of a water body is determined by whichever of these assessments is the poorer.
Good surface water status – the WFD requires that surface waters be of at least Good Ecological Status and Good Chemical Status.
High surface water status – the WFD requires that the hydro-morphological quality elements are also in place.
Lower classes – hydro-morphological quality (although not explicitly required) is a supporting element of biological and physico-chemical status and therefore must be taken into account.
Ecological Potential – HMWBs and AWBs
A separate classification process applies because these water bodies cannot reach good ecological status and are assessed by:
- Identifying the impacts affecting the water body;
- Identifying the mitigation measures necessary to ensure the hydro-morphological characteristics of a water body are consistent with Good or Maximum Ecological Potential; and
- Assessing whether those measures have been taken.
Where all applicable mitigation measures have already been taken or screened out, the water body can be classified as Good Ecological Potential or better. Where one or more applicable mitigation measure(s) remains to be taken, the water body will be classified as Moderate Ecological Potential (MEP) or worse. This will then be combined with the outcomes from other assessments to give an overall classification.
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