In 2000, the European Union adopted the Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC) which aims to protect and enhance the status of aquatic ecosystems on inland surface waters, transitional waters, coastal waters and groundwater and to promote sustainable water use. It is hoped these aims will be achieved by setting standards on water quality and ecological status that will be met mainly by reducing pollutant inputs, particularly priority hazardous substances, from the surrounding catchment.
Improving the water quality and ecology status of European rivers is difficult for four reasons:
- Whilst the study of the relationships between physical and chemical processes and the ecology in lakes is established, the equivalent science in rivers and wetlands is still relatively new. The understanding of how fluvial hydrochemistry controls the ecology and the feedback mechanisms are not sufficiently understood to predict the ecological response in rivers and wetlands with certainty;
- Pollutants which affect the ecology, either directly or indirectly by contributing to air pollution or climate change, are typically by-products of industry, farming, transport and power generation. All are currently of benefit to the economy of Europe, and therefore pollution controls in these sectors will have social and economic consequences, which are not fully understood;
- Changes in the climate, which are predicted to exceed natural variability, may confound our current understanding of chemical cycles in soils, groundwater, lakes, rivers and wetlands;
- Questions remain over what ‘good’ ecological status means. The WFD is based upon restoration to reference conditions, but the definition of an undisturbed river-system is uncertain and left to each Member State to define.
Water Resource Associates Ltd is well placed to help those managing the environment and the Competent Authorities, charged with policing the directive, to deal with the four problems. The directors and associates of WRA have a wide range of experience in hydrology, water chemistry and ecology and together can provide the integrated science required to implement the WFD; in particular WRA can provide a range of hydrological and water quality models to help investigate catchment management options.
Within the EU a common implementation strategy has been worked out. This takes accounts of other directives such as those on flood risk management, priority substances and groundwater. The EU has also issued a series of guidance documents covering such topics as: economics, water bodies, pressures and impacts, heavily modified water bodies, intercalibration, public participation, wetlands and ecological status.