Water Framework Directive

The Directive 2000/60/EC establishing a framework for the Community action in the field of water policy (EU Water Framework Directive) was adopted on 23 October 2000. It was transposed into law in EU Member States at the end of 2003. It is an ambitious, far-reaching and innovative piece of legislation, which aims to get polluted water clean again, and to ensure that clean waters are kept clean. As a change from previous water quality legislation its focus is on improving the underlying aquatic environment by requiring waters to attain Good Ecological Status as opposed to arbitrary water quality standards.

The European Anglers Association (EAA) has been working on the Directive’s implementation for years now, including in the context of the European Parliament Forum on Recreational Fisheries and the Aquatic Environment. Freshwater is a unique resource that is not only key to Europe’s stability and prosperity but is also essential for businesses to operate and nature to thrive. 

The angling experience depends on healthy water bodies and rich fish stocks and anglers are often the first to notice a deterioration in the aquatic environment. Full implementation of the Directive is crucial to support fish migration and maintain healthy fish stocks. For this reason, in 2017 the EAA joined forces with other international environmental NGOs (the European Environment Bureau (EEB), the European Rivers Network (ERN), Wetlands International and  WWF) to create the Living Rivers Europe coalition to raise awareness about the state of freshwaters in Europe and to campaign for a full implementation, strict enforcement and the attainment of the high Water Framework Directive’s targets. 

When adopted, the primary purpose of the Directive was to update and consolidate existing EU water legislation. It established a new integrated approach to water protection. The WFD is however complemented by other more specific EU laws, such as the Groundwater Directive (2006), the Environmental Quality Standards Directive (2008), the Floods Directive (2007) and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (2008). 

The Directive aims to protect  and improve EU rivers, lakes, streams, wetlands, groundwaters, ‘transitional waters’ (eg. lagoons, fjords, estuaries), and man-made water bodies (eg. canals, docks). In terms of management, those water bodies are divided into 110 river basin districts, 40 of which are international and cross-border in the EU. 

The Directive is built on four main pillars:
  1. Coordinated action to achieve ‘good status’ for all EU waters (initially) by 2015;
  2. Setting up a water-management system based on natural river basing districts;
  3. Integrated water management; and
  4. Active involvement of interested parties and consultation of the public.

A key aim of the WFD is for all water bodies to achieve ‘good ecological and chemical status’ by 2015, with limited exemptions allowed until 2027. Another important part of the WFD is an extensive programme of monitoring of surface and groundwater bodies. The results of this monitoring are being used to assess achievement of the WFD objectives. 

Good ecological status is defined in terms of the quality of the biological community. Good chemical status is defined in terms of compliance with all the quality standards established for chemical substances at European level. 

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