By the end of this year the UK, along with other Member States of the EC, will have transposed the Water Framework Directive (WFD) into national legislation. This is the first step in implementing the most substantial piece of water legislation to come out of Brussels, but the details about what will be required from industry in terms of costs and benefits are still very uncertain. It is those fine details, of how UK regulators implement the Directive, that will determine the costs to the UK water and wastewater industry and the intended benefits to the environment.
The WFD is intended to bring about an integrated and coordinated framework for the sustainable management of all waters. It applies to all waters including groundwater, rivers, lakes, estuaries and the coast, and requires them to meet ‘good’ status by 2015. It sets an integrated framework for managing waterbodies, by establishing river basin districts within which environmental objectives will be set, including the chemical and ecological standards that must be attained.
Eleven River Basin Districts have been proposed in England and Wales, three in Scotland and two in Northern Ireland. In England and Wales the Environment Agency will be responsible for developing a River Basin Management Plan (RBMP) for each river basin district. Each plan will present ‘environmental objectives’ and establish a ‘programme of measures’ to achieve the objectives. The timetable for achieving this and other milestones of the WFD is shown in Table 1.
River Basin Management Plans will be prepared in consultation with the public and other stakeholders. Public consultation and maintaining a transparent implementation process are key features of the WFD. Decisions of regulators will be open to scrutiny by all stakeholders who care to do so, whether industry, wildlife trusts or farming groups.
A stakeholder forum has already been established for the Ribble river basin, which the Environment Agency is using as a pilot catchment to fast track a river basin management plan and in particular, to test methods for engaging public participation. It is one of 14 river basins throughout Europe testing different aspects of the Common Implementation Strategy and developing a consistent understanding and application of the WFD.
Defra (Department of Food and Rural Affairs) has been later than anticipated in releasing its Third Consultation Paper on the implementation of the Water Framework Directive; in contrast, Scotland has already passed the Water Environment and Water Services (Scotland) Bill to implement the Directive. Nevertheless, Defra maintains that the government views the WFD as a major opportunity to deliver sustainable development objectives in relation to water.