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Water management in Europe has been subject to new regulations since December 2000. The EU’s Water Framework Directive poses new challenges for all water industry institutions. The Directive focuses on integrated water protection, an approach designed to achieve the following goals:
The Directive’s main goal, the “good status” of bodies of water, will be evaluated using a range of criteria, including the chemical status, ecological features and appearance of waterways.
The chemical status of a body of water is determined by detecting concentrations of a range of pollutants identified as impacting the whole of Europe. If levels of these pollutants are below the threshold values set, a “good chemical status” has been achieved. Groundwater is subject to the additional criteria that its conductivity is not impeded, that it is not causing a deterioration of the ecological and chemical quality of surface waters, and that terrestrial ecosystems relying on groundwater are not impaired.
The ecological status of a body of water is determined by identifying the types of fauna (fish and invertebrates such as insect larvae) and flora (plankton and aquatic plants) that are found in it. The water’s composition and its quality and appearance, the technical condition of the waterway’s bed, its banks and water meadows, and general chemical and physical-chemical parameters are also used to support this evaluation. A “good ecological status" is achieved when the composition of the four quality components of fish, invertebrates, plankton and aquatic plants is only slightly different from what the body of water’s natural situation would be without human intervention.
For artificial or significantly modified bodies of water, the quality goal is not “good ecological status”, but rather “good ecological potential“. This potential is determined by identifying all human influences that could be removed without a significantly negative restriction on the body of water’s usage. A drinking water reservoir must for example remain dammed so that it fulfils its purpose – it would make no sense to restore it as a flowing waterway. The reservoir might however be modified such that it is as similar as possible to a natural lake, thus making use of its ecological potential.