Water Framework Directive

The Water Framework Directive (WFD) became law in 2000 and it focuses on achieving a ‘good’ status for rivers, lakes, coasts and groundwaters in which wildlife can thrive.

The aims of the WFD are to:

  • Achieve an overall ‘good’ status of waters
  • Prevent deterioration and enhance the quality of the water environment
  • Promote the sustainable use of water
  • Reduce contamination
  • Mitigate against the impacts of floods and droughts
  • Create better habitats for wildlife and people

The overall ‘good’ status is driven by an ecological status and a chemical status – both of which have to be good for the waterbody to be awarded an overall ‘good’ status.

The chemical status looks at concentrations of chemical compounds that may be affecting the watercourse and if these concentrations are below a certain concentration the chemical status can be described as good.

The ecological status is determined through elements (physio-chemistry, ecology and hydromorpholgy) that all combine to make the overall ecological classification.

  • Physio-chemistry is the temperature, pH, phosphate, ammonia and dissolved oxygen contents.
    • Phosphate is a nutrient which occurs naturally but con also be inputted to watercourses through non-natural sources. These sources can be from discharges from sewage treatment works, industry or un-sewered domestic sewage waste
    • Ammonia is a chemical that is released into the water environment when organic matter is broken down. It is extremely harmful to wildlife in river environments.
    • Dissolved oxygen is the amount of oxygen that is dissolved in the water, which enables fish to breathe. If levels of dissolved oxygen are too low or too high, this can have damaging effects on aquatic wildlife.
  • Ecology covers the plants, animals and insects of a habitat. In the case of the WFD macrophytes (water plants), diatoms (microscopic algae), invertebrates (animals without a backbone) and fish are monitored to give an indication as to the overall ecological status of the waterbody.
  • Hydromorpholgy factors also influence the WFD status. Hydromorphology can be broken down into two parts
    • Hydrology – this is the amount of water that is available to support the ecology. This can be influenced by a number of factors including the underlying geology, over abstraction for drinking water and irrigation and the waterbody itself. Poor hydrology can cause issues associated with dissolved oxygen and cause a build of sediment.
    • Morphology – describes the shape of the river channel and how it changes over time. Many waterbodies have had the shape of their channel modified in some way; this can be for flood defence purposes, navigation purposes, land drainage or water storage to name a few. However, this can lead to loss of biodiversity in several ways such as blockages to fish migration due to weirs, sluices and pumping stations, it can cause flows to speed up resulting in waters that are too fast for wildlife but it can also cause flows to slow down and sometimes resulting in low dissolved oxygen. Issues relating to the physical modification of watercourses can be mitigated against by actions such as fish passages, which leaves vital structures for flood defence and navigation in place whilst also allowing fish to migrate upstream.

River Basin Management Planning

The WFD requires management of waterbodies at a river basin scale with a programme of measures to address ‘failing’ waterbodies. This programme of measures is referred to as the River Basin Management Plan (RBMP) and is produced on a six yearly cycle. The first RBMP was produced in 2009 and this is known as the baseline data to which we currently assess whether waterbodies are failing to meet the required standard.

The next RBMP will be produced in 2015 and the aim of the Catchment Based Approach (CaBA) is to involve local stakeholders and communities in this planning process, therefore ensuring that local priorities can influence the planning process.


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