University of Glasgow1, SEPA2
The Water Framework Directive 2000 (Directive 2000/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2000) sets out a bold ambition to protect and improve the water environment of Europe and achieve at least "good ecological status" and "no deterioration" for European water bodies by 2027 at latest. It sets out aims for real pricing, ecological and physical 'improvements' and the means by which plans will be presented and reported on by the Member States (MS) of the EU, based on river basins and catchments. It sought very significantly to rationalise the suite of related earlier Directives addressing water quality, for example, nitrate pollution and urban waste water treatment.
Subsequent Directives added flood risk management issues logically to the scope of MS implementation of WFD and following the establishment of the 2009-15 Basin Plans, as "local implementation" progressed a very great deal has been set out, learned and, in part, implemented and achieved. Overviews are given in Scott and Gemmell, 2013, Kaika 2003 and in Hering et al 2010. As we approach the end of the first full cycle and prepare for the second, with a further set of planning documents required by the end of 2015, it is an opportune and, we argue, critical time to review the progress so far and ask some demanding questions. We consider what data and information would be required to answer these questions and also how they might be framed in the ecosystem services framework.
The level of investment and programmatic action required by all MS across the EU has been massive, by some private estimates in the region of Euros 50-300Bn, for a decade of water industry and public investment in a range of related dimensions of our water environment. This has included: drinking water, waste water, raw water chemical and ecological condition and physical barrier/constraint removal as well as the management of point and diffuse sources. The investment against these headings embraces a myriad of bodies -- public, private and voluntary and the totals are challenging to quantify and check.
For some earlier "Acquisition States" it was considered an area for alignment with the EU acquis involving the single greatest compliance costs. Has this investment been assessed, what are the actual costs, what are the benefits and what actual condition improvements have been achieved? We consider whether or not we understand the relationships between ecological status and human pressures well enough to assess the delivery of significant and ultimately affordable, sustainable and durable improvement. We further assess the strength of available evidence for such assessments.
Overall impacts may be challenging to quantify but effects can be identified more easily, though direct attribution to WFD may be challenging. An improved and integrated approach to catchment management has been evident in Scotland. Stakeholder consultation, engagement with delivery partners and much improved alignment of roles and objectives are apparent through the River Basin Management Plan (RBMP) process.
Since 2009, SEPA has been working with other public bodies, voluntary organisations, land managers and other businesses to remove barriers to fish migration, tackle pollution problems, improve water flows and levels and restore more natural habitats in our rivers, lochs, estuaries and coastal waters. In the first RBMP in Scotland (ref SEPA), over 200 Scottish water bodies were targeted for improvement to good status. Well over 90 of these, representing around 1,000 km of river, had already been restored to good status at the end of 2013 and further improvements are expected by 2015 as measures take effect. In the main, the improvements have been secured by requiring licensed operators to reduce impacts arising from discharges of pollutants or water abstractions, and by working with partners such as the Rivers & Fisheries Trusts for Scotland to remove barriers to fish migration. Clearly further effort is needed.
The status of many water bodies is adversely affected by rural diffuse pollution and/or the effects of past engineering or drainage works that have damaged habitats and left barriers to migratory fish. Addressing these impacts is challenging and has required the development of new approaches in partnership with a range of different organisations.
In Scotland, we have developed collaborative approaches, for example, between regulators and the agricultural sector through farm visits. SEPA officers have walked over 5,000 km of watercourses to assess diffuse pollution impacts, and visited over 2,500 farmers and land managers to advise on remedial action. The good news is that as many as nine out of ten of those land managers are now known to be implementing agreed action plans to reduce diffuse pollution. Overall, this approach is seen as an example of best practice by the Commission. Restoring damaged habitats is even more of a challenge than tackling diffuse pollution.
The Scottish Government has set up a Water Environment Fund, administered by SEPA, to secure improvements by removing barriers to fish migration or restoring more natural river habitat. The Fund has been increased and is now supporting a range of voluntary initiatives with partner organisations and communities. Nevertheless, to achieve the RBMPs' objectives for 2027, a step change in effort will be needed. The consultations on the 2nd RBMPs to be published later in 2014 will contain proposals on how the effort needed could be phased up to 2027.
Are the achievement of WFD classification objectives alone sufficient to reflect the scale of real improvements to water bodies? Since 2008, we have been collecting more and better environmental data and using new and revised environmental standards to interpret those data. This has considerably improved our understanding of the ecological quality of the water environment and led to many changes in our initial classifications. However, it means that we cannot now use classification results alone to identify real environmental improvements. This difficulty is compounded as the classification results also take into account the negative effects on the status of the water environment that important new developments such as hydropower schemes can have. We propose that the value of benefits from investment in measures should be accounted for more holistically and include the costs and benefits related to improvement in ecosystem services.
In Scotland, we have begun to develop this accounting framework as we begin the second cycle of RBMP. Where next for WFD within the EU? The challenges of tackling diffuse pollution, restoring more natural habitats and separating out real improvements from improved status assessment methods are not unique to Scotland. How do we know if there is equality of effort to meet WFD objectives across the EU?
There are data available from the Water Information System for Europe (WISE) but at a very broad scale of progress which does not allow calculation of comparative costs and benefits. These ratios will be very hard however to identify. Setting a real price for water across the EU is some way off. And use of the ecosystem services framework at least ensures that future management interventions take account (even if only partial) of the costs, benefits, services and values. So, what does this tell us, and require of investors, including governments, for the next plan period? The evidence of comparative costs and benefits of the WFD across the EU requires to be strengthened and made available for independent audit. Without such evidence, assessment and audit, the objectives of the Directive are still an, arguably excellent, act of faith. Evidently, much yet remains to be done to achieve the Directive's targets and secure high quality water environments right across the EU. In Scotland it will be necessary to direct more effort on to addressing diffuse pollution and restoring damaged habitats. It is also the challenge, and the opportunity, for SEPA, sibling EPAs and the many partner bodies involved across the whole EU over the next 12 years if the high aspirations of protecting and restoring the water environment for the benefit of generations to come are to be achieved.
1Hering, Daniel; Borja, Angel; Carstensen, Jacob; Carvalho, Laurence; Elliott, Mike; Feld, Christian K.; Heiskanen, Anna-Stiina; Johnson, Richard K.; Moe, Jannicke; Pont, Didier; Solheim, Anne Lyche; van de Bund, Wouter. (2010) The European Water Framework Directive at the age of 10: A critical review of the achievements with recommendations for the future. Science of the Total Environment, 408. 4007-4019. 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2010.05.031 2Kaika M (2003) The Water Framework Directive: A New Directive for a Changing Social, Political and Economic European FrameworkEuropean Planning StudiesVolume 11, Issue 3, pages 299-3162003DOI:10.1080/09654310303640 3Scott EM and GemmellJC (2013) Water Quality Assessment and European Water Framework Directive in Encyclopedia of Environmetrics, DOI: 10.1002/9780470057339.vnn006, John Wiley