- 5.2 first component: assessment of current status and preliminary gap analysis
The initial stage in the process of implementing the Water Framework Directive can be called as 'Setting the scene' and includes the identification of the River Basin Districts, establishment of the appropriate administrative arrangements for co-ordination of activities, and designation of competent authorities.
Following this, the first component of the planning process is to describe the characteristics of each River Basin District. This requirement is outlined in Article 5 (see Annex 2).
Hence, the assessment on current water status is based in the four following tasks:
- General description of the river basin district that should include the establishment of reference conditions for surface waters;
- Register of protected areas;
- Identification of significant pressures and assessment of their impacts;
- Economic analysis of water uses.
These tasks should be completed by 22 December 2004, and reported to the Commission by the 22 March 2005.
|Look out! The general description of the RBDs is important because it will serve as the foundation of the subsequent process|
The general description of the RBD includes assigning coastal water bodies to districts. Article 2(7) of WFD defines coastal waters as extending for a nautical mile from the territorial baseline.
Shared groundwaters must only be assigned to one RBD. This is an outstanding difference with respect to coastal waters, where the Directive allows them to be assigned to more than one RBD.
|Look out! Under the Common Implementation Strategy the following specific documents have been developed on:|
Moreover a specific Guidance Document in Wetlands is in preparation and expected to be finished in 2003.
For all water bodies, good status must be achieved unless a derogation is applied. Each water body has to be characterised according to ecoregion types (System A) or to the differentiation of water bodies into types using the different obligatory and optional factors (System B). This work will provide the foundation for further activities to establish what 'good status' will mean for each 'type'.
According to the Directive, it is necessary to identify what the relevant aspects of a waterbody's characteristics would be like if there were 'no or only very minor alterations' to the body resulting from human activities. In the Directive these nearly undisturbed conditions are called as reference conditions.
Reference conditions also have to be included in the general description of the RBD and they should be selected according to chemical and hydro-morphological characteristics and evaluated more specifically in quantitative terms on the basis of biological parameters. Reference conditions must be defined for each quality element and each water body type in order to allow an ecological quality ratio to be calculated and a class determined for each surface water body. They also have to be included in the general description of the RBD and they should be selected according to chemical and hydro-morphological characteristics and evaluated more specifically in quantitative terms on the basis of biological parameters. The characterisation of surface waters requires that Member States develop a reference network for each surface water body type. If no reference waters are available, reference conditions could be based on modelling or on expert judgement.
Sometimes it will not be possible to achieve a 'nearly undisturbed condition' of a water body because of substantial physical alterations made to it to permit activities as irrigation, drinking water supply, power generation, navigation and so on. The Directive recognises that in some cases the benefits of such uses need to be retained and if a series of criteria are fulfilled, allows their designation as artificial or heavily modified water bodies.
The reference conditions for artificial or heavily modified water bodies of surface water is the 'maximum ecological potential', that has to be derived from the water body type that is most similar to the uninfluenced body of surface water.
|Look out! First characterisation of water bodies may also include a provisional identification of artificial and heavily modified water bodies.|
The designation of artificial or heavily modified water bodies can be also considered as an exemption from the 'good ecological status objective' but this task is required in the river basin management plan in which the final designation shall be made before December 2009. In any case, a provisional identification of artificial and heavily modified water bodies may be undertaken by 2004 and the formal designation by 2009.
|Look out! Under the Common Implementation Strategy a specific Guidance Document has been developed on the identification and designation of heavily modified and artificial water bodies (WFD CIS Guidance Document No.4 from WG 2.2)|
The Directive provides protection to higher standards through the designation and registration of protected areas. Protected areas are those that have been designated as requiring special protection under EU legislation, either to protect their surface water or groundwater or to conserve habitats and species that directly depend on those waters. A register of protected areas within the district shall also be published by the end of 2004 (article 6 and Annex IV).
Under Article 4 of the Directive, for individual protected areas, any standards and objectives that have been set for them must be complied with within 15 years of the Directive entering into force unless otherwise specified in the Community legislation under which they have been designated.
The register of protected areas required under article 6 must include the following types of protected areas:
- areas designated for the abstraction of water intended for human consumption;
- areas designated for the protection of economically significant aquatic species;
- bodies of water designated as recreational waters;
- nutrient sensitive areas; and,
- areas indicated for the protection of habitats or species where the maintenance or improvement or the status of water is an important factor in their protection.
The following table shows the Community legislation more relevant for each type.
|Abstraction of water intended for human consumption.
||Surface Water Abstraction Directive (75/440/EEC)|
|Protection of economically significant aquatic species|
Shellfish waters designated under the Shellfish Waters Directive (79/923/EEC)
||Bathing waters designated under the Bathing Waters Directive (76/160/ECC)|
|Nutrient sensitive areas
||NVZs designated under the Nitrates Directive (91/676/EEC) and sensitive areas designated under the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (91/272/EEC)|
|Protection of habitats or species
||Natura 2000 sites designated under the Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC) or designated under the Birds Directive (79/409/EEC)|
Generally, protected areas derive their status from the specific Community legislation under which those areas are identified or defined. Consequently, it is considered that no specific power to 'designate' new categories of protected areas will be needed, although a power is needed to specify the protected areas to which the article 6 (and then article 4) obligations will apply.
An exception to this general rule concerns article 7 (water used for the abstraction of drinking water), which provides a new obligation to identify all bodies of water used for the abstraction of drinking water and those bodies intended for such future use.
The identification of significant anthropogenic current and foreseen pressures and the assessment of their impacts are based on Annex II (1.4) of the WFD. Once the main pressures have been identified, an assessment shall be made to predict how they can impact on the water bodies, i.e. how they influence the achievement of the environmental quality objectives. The susceptibility of the surface water bodies status to the pressures can be obtained using both monitoring data and modelling techniques.
|Look out! Under the Common Implementation Strategy a specific Guidance Document has been developed on the analysis of pressures and impacts in accordance with the WFD (WFD CIS Guidance Document No. 3 from WG 2.1)|
For both surface and groundwaters, although the requirements are phrased slightly differently, the approach is essentially the same. That is, to gather available information about pressures on water bodies, and to assess the impact of those pressures on water bodies and the risk of them failing to meet the environmental status objectives set for the water bodies.
In fact, what the Directive requires from the identification is an assessment of which water bodies are at risk of failing to meet the environmental objectives. This information will be used to define the programmes of measures and the design of monitoring programmes.
The risk assessment for groundwater considers that groundwater can take a long time to recover once it is polluted. If achieving good status by 2015 is technically unfeasible or disproportionately expensive, lower objectives can be established. Groundwater bodies which will have these lower objectives have to be identified and require an evaluation of the feasibility of natural or artificially assisted restoration. The use of derogations is subject to a number of tests that must be reported to the Commission in the RBMPs.
|Look out! Under the Common Implementation Strategy a specific Guidance Document has been developed on the Statistical aspects of the identification of groundwater pollution trends, and aggregation of monitoring results (WG 2.8). A so-called daughter directive on Groundwater is expected to be finished during 2003.|
For 2004, a provisional identification of HMWB is needed on the basis of significant hydromorphological alterations. The risk assessment for surface water bodies will determine whether the effects of hydromorphological alterations to a surface body are likely to prevent the achievement of good ecological status.
If the achievement of good ecological status is considered as uncertain, a further assessment will be required after 2004 to determine what improvements to the hydromorphological conditions would be needed to achieve good ecological status and whether such improvements would have significant adverse effects on the activity related to the alteration (derogation on the basis of disproportionate costs). The result of this assessment of the risk to fail to meet the objectives is the identification of HMWB. At this stage, a third assessment will be required to determine the risk of the HMWB to fail to achieve the good ecological potential.
|Look out! For 2004, only a first assessment of risk of failing to meet the objectives is required. |
Results of monitoring will precise this risk in 2005-2006 (confirmation of the risk or not). Monitoring is a task that is greatly related to the risk assessment. Specific requirements for monitoring can be found in Article 8 (see Annex 2 of this document). Results of monitoring are necessary in order to decide if it is necessary to make further assessment.
|Look out! Risk assessment is one of the main tool of the river basin planning process.|
If every pressure could be reliably identified and its effects accurately predicted, monitoring would be redundant. However, risk assessments can never be perfect. They always need to be tested. The risk assessments completed by the end of 2004 will provide an estimate of which water bodies could be at risk of failing to achieve environmental objectives. The monitoring programmes must provide the information needed to supplement and validate these assessments and to establish the status of the bodies confirmed at risk.
Wetland ecosystems are ecologically and functionally significant parts elements of the water environment, with potentially an important role to play in helping to achieve sustainable river basin management. The Water Framework Directive does not set environmental objectives for wetlands. However, wetlands that are dependent on groundwater bodies, form part of a surface water body, or are Protected Areas, will benefit from WFD obligations to protect and restore the status of water. Relevant definitions are developed in WFD CIS Guidance Document No. 2 on water bodies and further considered in Guidance on wetlands (currently under preparation).
Pressures on wetlands (for example physical modification or pollution) can result in impacts on the ecological status of water bodies. Measures to manage such pressures may therefore need to be considered as part of river basin management plans, where they are necessary to meet the environmental objectives of the Directive.
Wetland creation and enhancement can in appropriate circumstances offer sustainable, cost-effective and socially acceptable mechanisms for helping to achieve the environmental objectives of the Directive. In particular, wetlands can help to abate pollution impacts, contribute to mitigating the effects of droughts and floods, help to achieve sustainable coastal management and to promote groundwater recharge. The relevance of wetlands within programmes of measures is examined further in a separate horizontal Guidance paper on wetlands (currently in preparation).
The economic analysis of water uses is mainly described in the Article 9 and Annex III of the WFD (see Annex 2).
|Look out! Under the Common Implementation Strategy a specific Guidance Document (WFD CIS Guidance Document No. 1) has been developed on 'Economics and the environment - The implementation challenges of the WFD' (WG 2.6).|
The comparison between the economic elements of the Directive reviewed and the content of Annex III of the WFD shows that not all components of the economic analysis required to support the implementation of the economic elements of the Directive are specifically spelt out in Annex III.
A difference is made between the explicit and implicit functions of the economic analysis, the term explicit referring to the economic components that are specifically outlined in Article 5 and Annex III (see Figure 5.1), and the term 'implicit' referring to references made to economic issues in other parts of the text of the Directive that will also require some economic analysis which has not been mentioned in Article 5 and Annex III (see following figures).
Source: WFD CIS Guidance Document No. 1 - WATECO.
Figure 5.1 The explicit economic functions of the economic analysis.
|Look out! The economic analysis undertaken by 2004.|
2004 is the first major deadline aimed at characterising river basin districts as referred to primarily in Article 5 and relevant annexes of the Directive. Therefore, 2004 is also the first milestone for the economic analysis that requires for each river basin district to:
Source: WFD CIS Guidance Document No. 1 - WATECO.
Figure 5.2 The implicit economic functions of the economic analysis.
The second component in the implementation of the planning process includes the setting up of the environmental objectives mainly based in Article 4 of the WFD (see Annex 2).
The Directive specifies the following principal environmental objectives for surface water bodies:
- to prevent deterioration in their status ;
- to restore to good surface water status (or good ecological potential for heavily modified and artificial water bodies) by 2015; and
- to implement the necessary measures with the aim on progressively reducing pollution from priority substances and ceasing or phasing out emissions, discharges and losses of priority hazardous substances.
- to implement the measures necessary to prevent or limit the input of pollutants into groundwater and to prevent the deterioration of the status of all bodies of groundwater;
- to protect, enhance and restore all bodies of groundwater, ensure a balance between abstraction and recharge of groundwater, with the aim of achieving good groundwater status on December 2015 at the latest; and
- to implement the measures necessary to reserve any significant and sustained upward trend in the concentration of any pollutant resulting from the impact of human activity in order to reduce pollution of groundwater progressively.
- to achieve compliance, by December 2015 at the latest, with specific standards and objectives specified in the Community legislation under which the individual protected areas have been established;
- to achieve compliance with good status objectives by December 2015, unless delay or less stringent objective if all the necessary improvements in the water status cannot reasonably be achieved within 2015.
|Look out! Classification schemes.|
Ultimate aim of the WFD is the achievement of 'good water status'.
The status of surface water bodies will be determined by the poorer of its chemical or ecological status.
Chemical status describes whether or not the concentration of any pollutant exceeds standards that have been set at the European level
Ecological status is principally a measure of the effects of human activities to water.
The status of groundwater bodies will be determined by the poorer of its chemical and quantitative status.
Quantitative status is an expression of the degree to which a body of groundwater is affected by direct and indirect abstractions.
The main aim of the definition of environmental objectives is to set goals and targets which then serve as the foundation of the decision on programmes of measures. Goals and targets should fix into a long-term vision for the RBD, and be seen as steps to achieve the vision via a concrete planning process.
In certain circumstances, different objectives may be specified through the river basin planning process, e.g. for water bodies for which the restoration of good status would be technically unfeasible or disproportionately expensive. For surface waters designated as heavily modified or artificial, the status objectives that must be achieved by 2015 are good ecological potential and good surface water chemical status.
|Look out! Classification for heavily modified and artificial surface water bodies.|
Despite being designated as heavily modified, water bodies still have to achieve good chemical status and good ecological potential.
Maximum Ecological potential defines the reference conditions considering all mitigation measures which do not have a significant adverse effect on specified uses or the wider environment.
Good ecological potential is defined as a 'slight' shortfall from the maximum ecological potential these bodies can achieve.
The setting of the environmental objectives can be considered as one of the core components of the implementation of the WFD and also of its planning process. As explained before, setting the objectives in the context of the WFD means taking decisions on using the different options of Article 4. The definition of environmental objectives is not only a question of what exactly the status of a certain water body (and not that of an entire basin) should be but also a question of when this status should be achieved. Thus, the expression of setting of objectives is used in order to make a distinction between what is defined as objectives in the WFD itself and what is at the discretion of the river basin authorities. As the process required by Article 4 is very complex, it was felt useful to provide in this Guidance a more detailed explanation of the implementation tasks to be carried out and the steps to be taken in the form of a sketch included below.