70. COMMUNITY WATER POLICY (8TH REPORT,
Memorandum from the Department of the
Environment, Transport and the Regions
The Government welcomes the Committee's report
on the European Commission's proposal for a Water Framework Directive.
The proposal has developed further since the Committee reported
and some of the concerns expressed have been addressed by amendments
to the proposal presented by the Commission and during negotiations
in the Council working group.
The most significant developments have been
the formal adoption by the Commission of the following:
a revision of the Dangerous Substances
in Water Directive (76/464) within the Framework Directive, which
was adopted at the end of November (an Explanatory Memorandum
was submitted on 20 January). In the Government's view this generally
represents a considerable improvement on earlier attempts at revision
and reflects a number of detailed changes sought by the UK;
a complete revision of Annex V (EC
Document 6260/98) (which provides the technical specifications
of definition, classification and monitoring of the status of
surface and groundwaters), which was adopted in February. An Explanatory
Memorandum will be submitted shortly. The proposal responds to
a general concern among member states and the European Parliament,
and which the Committee shared, that since these provisions define
the objectives to be achieved under the Directive they should
be agreed by the Council and Parliament prior to the adoption
of the Directive, rather than deferred for consideration by the
Management Committee to be established under Article 25 of the
Directive. The Government considers that this represents a significant
The UK has made the Directive a priority for
negotiations during its Presidency, and progress to date has been
encouraging. Inevitably, aspects of the text change as negotiations
proceed so the situation should be regarded as fluid, but it is
possible to give some responses to the Committee's detailed comments.
These are set out below.
PARAGRAPHS 41, 44, 45, 46, 47,
On average the river basins identified under
the Directive are likely to be considerably larger than some of
the catchments for which plans are currently prepared in England
and Wales (catchment planning has yet to be fully developed in
Scotland and Northern Ireland). However, there is flexibility
in the identification of river basins and for the development
of plans at sub-basin level which can then be aggregated into
the overall river basin management plan. The intention of the
proposal is to build on existing administrative structures where
possible, including international bodies where these exist. There
has been further discussion of cases where river basins cross
the boundaries of the Communityan issue which is of concern
to a number of member states. The emphasis is on seeking to achieve
the requirements of the Directive throughout these areas (the
latter may entail use of the provisions of existing Conventions
where these are in place), but there is an inevitable limit to
the extent to which this can be achieved in practice.
As regards the position in Scotland and Northern
Ireland, the Directive allows for any number of competent authorities
to be designated to implement the requirements of the Directive.
The Government is considering carefully the potential implications
of the Directive for the powers available to the various regulatory
There is an ongoing debate about the degree
of prescription required in the Directive in respect of the river
basin management planning process, including the degree of detailed
information in the analyses of the characteristics of River Basin
Districts, the reviews of the impact of human activity and the
economic analyses of water use. It is clear that many member states
wish to see more flexibility in these provisions. In terms of
the actual planning process there will be a requirement to take
account of all of the issues which impact on the catchment. Programmes
will include whatever measures are necessary in order to tackle
diffuse pollution or other anthropogenic influences on catchments
in order to achieve the objectives set under Article 4.
However, as the Committee acknowledged, there
should not be a requirement to reverse the effect of long-standing
urban and other development. There are some features of a catchment
that are in practical terms unmodifiable and these will often
include flood prevention measures. However, as the Committee also
recognised, there may be a need to mention floods and droughts
more explicitly in the Directive so that efforts to mitigate their
effects are also reflected, at least to some extent, in river
basin management plans. River basin management plans will also
need to take into account longer-term changes in quantity and
quality of water resources, including, where practicable, those
resulting from climate change.
Finally, the Committee expressed some concern
about the Government's approach to strategic environmental assessment.
The Government is firmly committed to the appraisal of environmental
implications at all levels of decision making. In its view, however,
the proposed Directive on strategic environmental assessment is
not the best way to ensure that environmental concerns are integrated
into members states' decision making processes. The UK and a number
of other member states have concerns over the scope and pracitcality
of the proposal, and it was therefore decided not to put this
proposal to the Council of Ministers during the UK Presidency.
38, 48(III) AND
(V), 49, 50, 51)
The revised proposal for Annex V reflects the
work of an experts' group, established under the Luxembourg Presidency
and which is continuing to operate under the UK Presidency. The
Environment Agency has played an active role in the experts' working
group and the Government has also taken advice from other UK water
regulatory bodies and statutory nature conservation bodies and
sought views from NGOs and other interested parties in industry
and agriculture. The Government will continue to seek such views
as negotiations proceed.
Good quality for surface waters is defined primarily
in terms of the condition of biological populations, as well as
concentrations of certain dangerous substances. Biota are monitored
and the status is determined by comparison with a reference condition
representing what would be expected for the body of water in conditions
of minimal human impact. The reference condition can be determined
either by using historical data for the site concerned or from
contemporary data from another site with similar characteristics.
Since the objectives are concerned with the state of the biological
populations, all impacts on the biotawhether chemical or
physical in originmust be taken into account and tackled
The Directive will contribute, sigificantly
in somes cases, to the protection of habitats which are aquatic
or are directly dependent on the water environment, thereby addressing
some of the concerns that have been expressed about the treatment
of wetlands. However, the Directive is not a biodiversity measure
per se; to make it such would significantly extend its
scope and complexity.
Naturally dry climatic conditions will be reflected
in the determination of reference conditions for surface water
bodies and good status will be defined accordingly. Since the
defintion of good status for surface waters rests on the state
of the biota, the achievement of "good status" for surface
waters requires an appropriate flow regime or water levels capable
of supporting the characteristic biological communities. However,
it does not require achievement of specific quantitative or other
physical or structural objectives if these are not necessary to
support the biological communities.
Work on defining the objectives for groundwaters
has also developed significantly. The material on groundwaters
in Annex V was not considered by the experts or the Council working
group prior to the adoption of the amendment. However, subsequent
discussions at expert level indicate a broad consensus among Member
States about an approach which concentrates in terms of quantity,
on a relatively general assessment of groundwater levels and the
relationship between levels of recharge, abstraction and flows
to support surface ecology.
Consideration of the timetable for improvements
cannot be divorced from the nature of the objectives to be achieved
and the extent and nature of derogations for certain difficult
cases. Now that the objectives are becoming a good deal clearer,
detailed consideration can be given to these other issues. There
seems to be a general feeling among member states that the timetable
will need to extended beyond 2010 but the degree to which this
is necessary remains to be debated.
One idea that has been put forward is for a
stepped approach to improvements; another is that there should
be some assessment of the benefits of better quality in particular
areas. However, regardless of the resolution of those issues,
the notion of "no deterioration" underpins the Directive
so that existing high quality waters will be protected regardless
of how quickly other waters are brought up to higher standards.
The Government agrees with the Committee that
effective monitoring is vital in order to measure progress both
within and between member states. National monitoring systems
will continue to be used (in some cases after further development)
for some considerable time. Accordingly, the need to ensure a
high degree of comparability between the results obtained by different
monitoring systems is addressed at some length in the revision
of Annex V. The work that has been done for surface waters draws
heavily on the advice of the European Environment Agency Topic
Centre for inland waters. However, some further refinements of
the monitoring sections in the Annex is necessary in order to
strike the right balance between obtaining sufficient good quality
data to measure the status of water bodies and avoiding unnecessary
burdens on member states.
The consultants commissioned by the Government
to undertake a study estimating the compliance costs and the benefits
of the proposed Directive are due to produce their final report
shortly. The study is inevitably somewhat speculative in a number
of respects but has taken fully into account the revision of Annex
V. The Government considers that it is important to make as robust
an assessment as possible of the costs and benefits of the Directive
whilst negotiations are in progress, and the results of this study
will assist the Government greatly in making this assessment.
PARAGRAPHS 43, 55 AND
The Government agrees with the Committee that
demand for water must be managed if water abstraction is to be
sustainable, especially given the prospect of climate change.
Through its requirement to achieve good status of surface water
and groundwater, the proposed Directive will provide firm drivers
towards sustainable abstractions, for those objectives will only
be possible if abstractions are managed in a way which takes full
account of the interaction between water quantity and the quality
of water and its dependent ecosystems.
The precise way in which water demand is managed
needs, however, to be determined according to local circumstances.
The Government would expect river basin plans to incorporate references
to an appropriate blend of leakage control and encouragementby
various meansof efficient use by household and industrial
consumers, but it considers that compliance with the proposed
Directive's overall objectives provide sufficient incentive in
that regard, with no need to make undefined "demand management"
an explicit mandatory measure for incorporation into the plans.
40, 57, 58)
Many member states share the concern expressed
by the Committee about the effects of cost recovery and, in particular,
charging for environmental costs. The Government welcomes the
greater emphasis in the proposal on the "polluter pays"
principle and on economic analysis and the potential use of measures
such as charges to stimulate improvements in the use of the water
environment whether for abstraction, discharge or other measures.
It seems likely from negotiations to date that Article 12 will
be couched in less prescriptive terms to allow greater cognisance
to be taken of the interactions with other areas of policysuch
as public healthand social, geographical and climatic circumstances.