UK Progress on Reducing Nitrate Pollution Contents

Annex 2: Water Quality Directives


Key Elements

Water Framework Directive (WFD)

This Directive is the EU’s key water quality directive and was established for the assessment, management, protection and improvement of water quality . 24 It stipulates that EU member states should aim to achieve good status of water in all bodies of surface and ground water by 2015, or 2027 by the latest. It sets out certain standards for this to be achieved and includes measures for drinking water status and targets associated with the Habitats and Birds Directives . 25 Good status involves meeting certain standards for water ecology , 26 chemistry , 27 and quantity of waters and at a general level that water shows only a slight change from what would normally be expected under undisturbed conditions . 28 The European Commission is carrying out an Evaluation and Fitness Check Roadmap on the WFD and related Directives, which is due to finish in 2019 . 29

The Directive is transposed in England and Wales by the Water Environment (Water Framework Directive) (England and Wales) Regulations 2017 (as amended). Regulation is provided by the Environment Agency in England and by Natural Resources Wales . 30 Separate legislation applies in Scotland and Northern Ireland, regulated respectively by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) , 31 and the Department of Environment Northern Ireland (DAERA) . 32

Drinking Water Directive

This seeks to ensure that drinking water is fit for human consumption . 33 It requires Member States to regularly monitor and test drinking water with 48 microbiological, chemical and indicator parameters . 34 The Directive also requires that Member States produce water quality reports every three years for the European Commission and relevant information for the public. The Directive is currently under review . 35

EU measures are transposed in England through The Water Supply (Water Quality) Regulations 2016 . 36

Bathing Water Directive

This requires Member States to protect bathing water areas, monitor and assess bathing areas for two parameters of faecal bacteria and ensure that bathing waters are integrated with other EU measures protecting the quality of water bodies through the Water Framework Directive . 37 Member States must monitor bathing waters every year, with some exemptions. Bathing waters are classified as: poor, sufficient, good or excellent, which are based on bacteriological quality. The category “sufficient” is the minimum quality threshold that all Member States should have attained by the end of 2015 at the latest. Tackling nitrates is a key element in achieving excellent bathing water quality and the measures supported by the Nitrates Directive, whilst tackling nitrate pollution, will also have a positive impact on reducing phosphate pollution . 38

The Bathing Directive is implemented in England by The Bathing Water (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2018.

Ground Water Directive

This helps underpin the WFD by setting baseline groundwater quality standards and established pollution trend studies . 39 It also calls for measures to prevent or limit inputs of pollutants into groundwater to be operational so that WFD environmental objectives can be achieved by 2015 and for reviews of technical provisions of the directive to be carried out every six years thereafter to ensure compliance with good chemical and quantitative status criteria , 40 based on EU standards of nitrates and pesticides and on threshold values established by Member States . 41

The Directive, as amended, is transposed in England by The Groundwater (Water Framework Directive) (England) Direction 2016, and guidance is provided on how to protect groundwater and prevent groundwater pollution . 42 The Government can introduce a number of measures to further protect water bodies. When an area is designated as a Water Protection Zone (WPZ), the regulator can apply additional measures to manage the area and/or stop activities that cause or could cause further damage or pollution to water. Only one WPZ has been designated: in the river Dee catchment in England and Wales in 1999 following a series of accidental chemical pollution incidents. Groundwater source protection zones are defined by the Environment Agency for groundwater sources to apply a general level of protection for all drinking water sources. Pollution prevention measures can be set up in area which are at higher risk and to monitor the activities of potential polluters nearby.

Urban Waste Water Directive

This seeks to protect the water environment from the adverse effects of discharges of urban waste water and from certain industrial discharges, including sensitive areas and their catchments which might be vulnerable to eutrophication . 43 The latter includes the impact of nitrates and phosphates. It requires pre-authorisation of all discharges of urban wastewater, of discharges from the food-processing industry and of industrial discharges into urban wastewater collection systems and monitoring of treatment plants and receiving waters. It also stipulates controls of sewage sludge disposal and re-use, and treated waste water re-use whenever it is appropriate . 44

The Directive is implemented in England and Wales by The Urban Waste Water Treatment (England and Wales) Regulations 1994. The European Environment Agency noted in its evidence to us that pressures to water quality stemming from urban waste water and urban run-off to groundwaters are more significant than many of other EU countries . 45

Nitrates Directive

This aims to protect water quality across Europe by preventing nitrates from agricultural sources polluting ground and surface waters and by promoting the use of good farming practices . 46 Member States are required to identify areas of polluted water or at risk of pollution. They can designate areas of land as Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs) which drain into polluted waters or waters at risk of pollution and which contribute to nitrate pollution or apply measures to the whole territory instead of designating NVZs. The Directive also calls for the establishment of Codes of Good Agricultural Practice to be implemented by farmers on a voluntary basis. Codes should include: limiting the use of nitrogen fertilisers to when crops need them and to the right conditions (e.g. weather and topography) to minimise nutrient leaching into water systems; good storage of livestock manure; crop rotations, soil winter cover, and catch crops to prevent nitrate leaching and run-off during wet seasons.

The Nitrate Directive is implemented in England by the Nitrate Pollution Prevention (Amendment) Regulations 2016.

24 See: European Commission, The EU Water Framework Directive - integrated river basin management for Europe, (accessed 16 July 2018).

25 For instance, this includes Natura 2000 sites, which are sites that have been designated either as a Special Protection Area (SPA) due to the rare, vulnerable or migratory birds present or as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) to protect scarce or threatened wild animals, plants or habitats.

26 Ecological status includes: biological quality (i.e. composition and abundance of specified elements such as fish, benthic invertebrates, aquatic flora); hydro morphological quality (e.g. river continuity, channel patterns, dynamics of flow or substrate of the river bed); physio-chemical quality (e.g. elements such as temperature, oxygenation, pH, nutrient conditions and the concentrations of specific pollutants (synthetic and non-synthetic)). See: House of Commons Library. Water Quality, (July 2018), p 10.

27 Chemical status is measured by reference to environmental quality standards for chemical substances at European level (otherwise known as priority substances, such as benzene and lead), which specify maximum annual average concentrations for specific water pollutants. See: House of Commons Library. Water Quality, (July 2018), p 10.

28 See European Environment Agency, Freshwater Quality, (accessed 11 June 2018).

29 European Commission, Fitness check of the Water Framework Directive and the Floods Directive, (accessed 25 July 2018).

31 See: SEPA, Water, (accessed 28 July 2018).

32 See: DAERA, Water Pollution, (accessed 28 July 2018).

33 See: European Commission, The Directive overview, (accessed 17 July 2018). The Directive was reviewed and a proposal to update it was submitted by the Commission in February 2018.

34 See European Commission Environment Directorate, Drinking Water: The Directive Overview, (accessed 11 June 2018).

35 The European Commission has proposed a revision of the Directive, to bring into line with more up-to-date scientific evidence, to provide more information for the public, to better equip Members states to address risks and to tie in water supplies with the circular economy (e.g. better supply to reduce need for plastic bottle). See European Commission Environment Directorate, Review of the Drinking Water Directive, (accessed 12 June 2018) and House of Commons Library, Water Quality, (July 2018), pp 19–20.

36 There are separate regulations for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

37 See European Commission Environment Directorate, Bathing water quality, (accessed June 2018).

38 European Environment Agency, UK bathing water quality in 2017, (May 2018), p 9. E.g. Nitrate Sensitive Zones but also basin catchment to deal with diffuse agricultural nitrate pollution.

39 See: European Commission, Groundwater as a resource, (accessed 21 July 2018).

40 See: House of Commons Library. Water Quality, (July 2018), p 11–12, for an overview of quantitative and chemical status in groundwater bodies.

41 See European Commission, Groundwater in the Water Framework Directive, (accessed 15 July 2018), which offers an overview of how the Groundwater Directive integrates with the WFD and other water quality Directives and measures.

42 See: Environment Agency, Protect groundwater and prevent groundwater pollution, (March 2017).

43 For more detailed information on sensitive areas see: Defra, Waste water treatment in the United Kingdom – 2012: Implementation of the European Union Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive – 91/271/EECA, (2012), pp 11–15. For an up-to-date list of UK sensitive areas see: Defra, Sensitive areas currently identified in the UK under the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive since 1994, (accessed 12 June 2018).

44 See: European Commission Environment Directorate, Urban Waste Water Directive Overview, (accessed 13 June 2018).

45 European Environment Agency NO30050. This included 24 EU countries, excluding Greece, Ireland, Lithuania and Slovenia.

46 European Commission Environment Directorate, The EU Nitrates Directive, (2010), p 1.

Published: 22 November 2018