18 November 1997
By the Select Committee appointed
to consider Community proposals, whether in draft or otherwise,
to obtain all necessary information about them, and to make reports
on those which, in the opinion of the Committee, raise important
questions of policy or principle, and on other questions to which
the Committee considers that the special attention of the House
should be drawn.
ORDERED TO REPORTCOMMUNITY WATER POLICY
Proposal for a Council Directive establishing a framework for Community action in the field of water policy
PART 1 INTRODUCTION
THE BACKGROUND TO THIS REPORT
1. This Report follows
a short enquiry in June-July 1997 by SubCommittee C
(Environment, Public Health and Consumer Protection) into the
European Commission's proposals for a "framework" Directive
which would rationalise the existing body of Community water legislation
and provide a framework within which other relevant legislation
would fit. Members of the Sub-Committee are listed in Appendix 1;
the oral and written evidence received is listed in Appendix 2.
As the Sub-Committee had recently enquired into other aspects
of water policy
and the present proposals appeared relatively uncontroversial,
a representative but limited range of evidence was sought, on
which we have reported selectively rather than comprehensively.
HISTORY OF COMMUNITY WATER POLICY
2. Community water policy
dates, like much other European Community environmental legislation,
from the 1970s, and can be said to have developed in two phases.
The first phase was characterised by "quality objective"
legislation, including Directives on Surface Water (1975), Bathing
Water (1976), Fish Water (1978), Shellfish Water (1979) and Drinking
Water (1980). It also included measures based on emission controls,
such as the Dangerous Substances Directive (1976) and its subsequent
"daughter" directives, and the Groundwater Directive
3. A ministerial seminar
in Frankfurt in 1988, which identified various improvements that
needed to be made to existing Community water legislation, led
to a second phase, starting with the Urban Waste Water Treatment
Directive and the Nitrates Directive in 1991: these were followed
in 1994 by a proposal by the Commission for an Ecological Quality
of Water Directive (now subsumed in the proposed framework Directive).
4. Following a further
ministerial seminar in the Hague in 1991, the Council adopted
a Resolution in 1992
requesting the Commission to draw up proposals for a revision
of the Groundwater Directive and for a Groundwater Action Programme.
Besides these, the Commission presented proposals for revisions
to the Bathing Water and Drinking Water Directives in 1994 and
The Commission also proposed a new emission control instrument
in the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Directive,
adopted in 1996.
5. Meanwhile in June
1995 the Council and the European Parliament called for a fundamental
review of Community water policy. This was to a large degree a
reaction to the wave of new legislative proposals (there are now
over 25 Directives or Decisions covering inland and coastal waters)
and the fact that they coincided with the implementation periods
of the Nitrates Directive and (with its high associated costs)
the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive. The Commission responded
with a discussion document, in the form of a Communication on
which inter alia recommended the making of a framework
Directive. The present proposals are the outcome of consultation
on that document.
6. The Commission's
proposals are summarised in the Explanatory Memorandum by the
Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR),
reproduced in Appendix 3.
They are designed to address the four main objectives of a sustainable
water policy identified in the Communication-provision of drinking
water, provision of water for other economic requirements, protection
of the environment and alleviation of the impact of floods and
droughts-and to provide a common framework for the protection
of surface and ground waters. The Commission's Explanatory Memorandum
goes on to say that, of those four objectives, protection of the
environment should be the principal one and that prevention and
alleviation of floods or droughts should not come directly within
the ambit of the Directive.
7. The overall purpose
of the Directive (as stated in Article 1) is the protection
of aquatic ecosystems (and the water needs of terrestrial ecosystems)
and the promotion of sustainable use of water resources. The Commission
envisages that the Directive will provide an overall framework
within which the Community, national and regional authorities
can develop integrated and coherent water policies; provide a
mechanism for identifying further issues requiring attention;
provide for data collection and analysis to underpin action; and
ensure transparency through consultation and public access to
information. The Directive would also rationalise the existing
body of Community water legislation by repealing and subsuming
various Directives or otherwise providing a framework within which
the remaining ones would fit.
8. The proposals envisage the establishment of river basin districts, with designated competent authorities charged with the tasks of assessing the characteristics of their basins, monitoring the status of surface and ground waters in them, drawing up (in the form of River Basin Management Plans) programmes of measures for achieving environmental objectives, and conducting public consultation. Fundamental to the Directive is the prevention of deterioration in water quality and the establishment of environmental objectives-to be reached by 2010-for all surface and ground waters across the Community. The aim is that (with some provision for derogations) all waters should be brought to (or maintained at) "good status". For surface waters this is defined by reference to good "chemical" and "ecological" status; for ground waters by good "chemical" and "quantitative" status. Some broad definitions of these terms are included in the Directive, but the Commission proposes that further elaboration of statuses should be delegated to a Management Committee (set up under Article 25) once the Directive has been adopted. Among the other requirements of the Directive are that there should be mechanisms for recovering, through charges, the full costs of providing water services and that charges should also "where appropriate" cover environmental and resource costs, with the proviso that Member States can permit a lower level of cost recovery to ensure that basic household uses remain affordable.
1 House of Lords Select Committee on the European Communities: Bathing Water, 1st Report, Session 1994-95, HL Paper 6; Bathing Water Revisited, 7th Report, 1994-95, HL Paper 41; Drinking Water, 4th Report, 1995-96, HL Paper 31. Back
2 See Q 2. Back
3 Full Official Journal references to the various Directives mentioned in this section are given in the Explanatory Memorandum to the Commission's proposals (COM (97) 49 final). Back
4 Council Resolution of 25 February 1992, OJ No C 59, 6 March 1992, p 2. Back
5 The Action Programme was adopted in 1996 but concluded that the Groundwater Directive should be replaced by relevant provisions in the proposed framework Directive. Back
6 See Footnote 1 above. Back
7 Institute for European Environmental Policy, Manual of Environmental Policy: the EC and Britain, ed. Nigel Haigh, chapter 4. Back
8 COM (96) 59 final, 21 February 1996. Back
9 Because of its length it has not been practicable to reproduce the Commission's document with this Report. Back