The European Water Framework Directive
Since December 2000, waterbody management in Europe has been subject to new regulations. The Water Framework Directive of the EU (WFD) presents challenges for all institutions active in the water management sector. The focus of the directive is on integrated water protection, which is intended to achieve the following aims:
- Water protection should no longer stop at administrative boundaries or national borders. The analysis will rather take place on the basis of river basins, i.e. based on natural boundaries.
- Water protection should no longer be treated as a purely ecological or technical problem. In future, the associated economic and social issues will also be considered.
- Groundwater, bodies of surface water, and water-related ecosystems, should have achieved "good status" by 2015.
- Worsening of the status of groundwater, bodies of surface water and aquatic ecosystems should be avoided.
- Water resources should be sustainably managed, thus making them available to future generations.
- The public should be involved in the measures agreed.
Exemption clauses under Article 4 of the Water Framework Directive permit the member states to extend the deadline for the targets specified, in order to achieve the environmental objectives within a practicable timeframe, or to define less strict environmental objectives.
The desired "good status" of the bodies of water is assessed using a range of criteria. These include the chemical status, ecological characteristics, and hydromorphological quality.
The chemical status of a body of water is determined by measuring the concentrations of a series of pollutants that are defined across Europe. If the likewise defined limit values are not breached, "good chemical status" is achieved. For the groundwater, it is a fundamental requirement that its conductivity is not impaired, that the groundwater is not responsible for any worsening of the ecological and chemical quality of the bodies of surface water, and that the land-based ecosystems that depend on the groundwater are not harmed.
The ecological status of a body of water is determined on the basis of the species of fauna (i.e. fish and invertebrates such as insect larvae) and flora (i.e. plankton and water plants). The water quality, appearance, and that technical status of the bed, banks and watermeadows are used in supporting the assessment, as are general chemical and physiochemical parameters. A "good ecological status" is achieved when the composition of the four quality components fish, invertebrates, plankton and water plants are only minimally different from the situation without human intervention.
For artificial or significantly changed bodies of water, the quality objective is not "good ecological status", but "good ecological potential". This potential is determined by identifying all human influences that can be removed without resulting in significant negative restrictions on the use of the body of water. A dam for a drinking water reservoir, for example, must remain in place in order to fulfil its function – it would not make sense to restore the flowing waterway. However, the dam reservoir could be modified to correspond as closely as possible to a natural lake, and thus fulfil its ecological potential.