An Indispensable Resource: EU Freshwater Policy - European Union Committee Contents

CHAPTER 2: Implementation of EU water legislation

12.  It is 12 years since the Water Framework Directive (WFD) was adopted, and more than two years since the deadline of December 2009 for Member States to produce their first round of River Basin Management Plans (RBMPs) under the Directive. The European Commission has judged it to be the right time to evaluate the state of implementation of the WFD and other water-related legislation, as the basis for the Blueprint which it will publish this year. Its approach was described as follows: "Our point of departure is that what can be fixed through better implementation should be fixed through better implementation rather than through grand new schemes. Also, the problems that we identified that can be fixed through better policy coherence and better integration with other policies should give priority to that way of dealing with them ... We will come to a residuum that we cannot deal with efficiently in that way, and that will be the scope for new measures."[5]

13.  We welcome this approach. We focussed much of our inquiry on experience of implementing the WFD and other EU legislation on water management, in other Member States as well as in the UK. We set out our findings below.


The Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC)
Under the Water Framework Directive, the basic management units for river basin management planning are the River Basin Districts (RBDs) that may comprise one or more river basins (and include as appropriate lakes, streams, rivers, groundwater and estuaries, together with the coastal waters into which they flow).

The WFD requires that river basin management plans (RBMPs) must be developed, and reviewed on a six-yearly basis, specifying the actions required within each RBD to achieve set environmental quality objectives. RBMPs must identify discrepancies between the existing status of rivers and other water bodies, and that required by the WFD, so that a programme of measures can be put in place to achieve the desired goals. The planning process should include an economic analysis of all water uses in each RBD, as well as determining the pressures and impacts on the water environment. A key element of this process is public information and consultation.

All water bodies are assigned to one of the Directive's five status classes: high, good, moderate, poor or bad. The WFD requires that all inland, estuarial and coastal waters within RBDs must reach at least good status by 2015. This is based on an assessment of ecological, chemical and quantitative criteria. There are more limited criteria for assessing the status of heavily modified and artificial water bodies; groundwater status is assessed on quantitative and chemical criteria alone.

There are over 30 differing criteria for assessing the status of rivers, lakes, transitional waters and coastal waters, but they all include consideration of:

  • biological quality, including presence or absence of various algae, plants, fish and invertebrates;
  • physical and chemical quality, including oxygenation and nutrient conditions;
  • environmental quality standards for levels of specific pollutants, such as pesticides; and
  • physical aspects that support the biological quality of the water body, such as the quantity and dynamics of water flow (hydro-morphological quality).

If part of a water body fails on any one of the criteria monitored, it will fail to achieve or lose good status. This is described as the "one out all out" approach.

There are a number of exemptions to the general objectives, including disproportionate cost, that allow for less stringent objectives, extension of the deadline beyond 2015 or the implementation of new projects. For all these exemptions, strict conditions must be met and a justification must be included in the river basin management plan.

Member States were required by the WFD to prepare RBMPs by December 2009; key subsequent deadlines are 2015, 2021 and 2027. In each case, environmental objectives set out in RBMPs should have been achieved six years after the RBMPs were prepared, and improved objectives should be specified for achievement over the next cycle of river basin planning of the following six years. Catchment Flood Management Plans, produced to meet the requirements of the Floods Directive (2007/60/EC), must be co-ordinated and synchronised with RBMPs.

Member States' governments have to designate organisations to act as "competent authorities" within their territories for taking forward implementation of the WFD. The UK Government have designated the Environment Agency to carry out this role in England and Wales; the Scottish Environment Protection Agency in Scotland; and the Environment and Heritage Service in Northern Ireland. A map showing the UK River Basin Districts is included at Appendix 5.

Implementation in other EU Member States

14.  In 2001, the Commission and Member States agreed a Common Implementation Strategy (CIS) for the WFD, to develop a shared understanding of the technical challenges posed by implementation. Water Directors from the Member States meet regularly to share knowledge and offer guidance. The Commission told us that it was one of the advantages of the CIS that Member States could draw on their experience under the WFD "to facilitate implementation in Member States that, because of lack of knowledge or resources, are less able to tackle the issues on their own."[6]

15.  Many, if not all, Member States have found implementation of the WFD challenging. Preparation of RBMPs has required major efforts. At the beginning of 2012, four Member States—Belgium, Greece, Portugal and Spain—had not yet adopted RBMPs, and the Commission had taken legal action against them. The Commission told us that Belgium, Greece and Portugal expected to adopt their RBMPs in 2012, and Spain in 2013. Incomplete implementation across the EU as a whole brings the risk that a proper assessment of the impact of the WFD may be hampered by the lack of evidence from Member States that have not yet put the Directive into practice, and this in turn impedes any process of identifying changes that may need to be made.

16.  We heard from Mr Frédéric de Hemptinne, an environmental consultant with expertise in EU water policy, about the difficulties that Member States have encountered. He saw four key obstacles: costs that were not foreseen when the Directive was adopted; the scale of the change required, which has necessitated new approaches to co-ordination of different agencies within Member States; the innovative nature of the participative and inclusive approach to catchment management (see Chapter 4); and the extent to which the holistic approach of the WFD has brought to light previously unforeseen problems.[7]

17.  The evidence which we heard from the German government chimed with this. Their representative said that Germany would have "problems achieving the objectives of the Water Framework Directive" and would extend deadlines from 2015 to 2021 and 2027: "we are living in a densely populated state, and a lot of things have been done, especially to the hydro-morphology of surface water bodies. We have a situation where quick improvements are not really possible."[8] In Germany, water management responsibilities rested with a three-tier administrative structure in each Federal State: the State Ministry, the district administration, and the municipality. While guidance on the implementation of the WFD was being developed at the EU level, decisions would be taken by each of the administrative tiers, but that "for the local administrations, a lot of the provisions of the Directive have not come down to them yet or are not understood yet."[9] The economic situation of the administrations was also relevant.

18.  The Commission acknowledged that the governance provisions of the WFD—river basin management, and stakeholder involvement—amounted to a "very significant ... reform". The WFD took a top-down and a bottom-up approach to promoting governance, setting a framework, but leaving room for local flexibility. The CIS acted as a means of offering guidance on stakeholder involvement: "The Commission is ready to continue down this road of promoting good governance, because we believe that good governance is the way to get improvements in water management."[10]

19.  Representatives of the WWF made the point that implementation of the WFD went beyond the preparation of RBMPs. WWF (UK) explained that the Commission was "still looking at whether countries have put plans out, not necessarily looking at the content of them".[11] The WWF's European Policy Office added that, while "about 80% of the EU's territory and population are already covered by plans that still need to be implemented", the RBMPs "still need to be translated into real action. So there is a bit of an issue that some of these Member States need to speed up to meet the deadline and invest a bit more in river basin management planning."[12]

20.  We took evidence about the methodology which underpins the classification of waters under the WFD. Monitoring of quality is based on over 30 criteria, grouped into ecological status (including biology, and "elements" such as phosphorus and pH) and chemical status ("priority substances": see Box 2). It uses a principle of "one out, all out": if measurement of only one of the 30 criteria falls short, that one result determines the overall assessment of the water's quality.

21.  Mr de Hemptinne said that working towards an agreed understanding of how "good ecological status" should be defined under the WFD had taken a lot of effort; but this had produced "essential progress ... ecological systems are not simple ... so the assessment cannot be simple".[13] Asked about relaxing the "one out all out" principle, the German government said that "we should not relax things, and especially not change things".[14]

22.  Witnesses from the water industry raised concerns about the scientific credibility of the tests, implementation in other Member States and possible cost implications, and they argued for more flexibility around whether a water course achieved good status.[15] Whilst recognising that "good status" was a useful indicator of long-term sustainability in a catchment, the Environment Agency also argued that, because it can be failed in so many ways and because the public will find some aspects of it difficult to value, a more public-facing set of interim indicators and values was required.[16]

23.  The WWF (UK) said that the principle had been criticised on the grounds of statistical and theoretical uncertainties, namely, an increasing risk of a false negative as more and more elements were monitored; in practice, however, it was "not playing out as a problem at the moment", and the classification was only one step in the overall process of planning for good ecological status.[17] We heard from the WWF European Policy Office that there was an issue of communication; progress was being made, for example, in improving the biological status of UK waters, but "because of the chemical status and because of the 'one out all out' principle, some of the water bodies will remain red despite the fact that ... there is life coming back to those water bodies."[18]

24.  Overall, while our witnesses recognised that there had been difficulties with aspects of implementing the Directive, they shared a consensus that the WFD had been a force for good in EU water resource management. They tended to agree that it did not need to be significantly changed at the current time, not least because of the long time period needed to secure acceptance and implementation of the Directive, filtering down from national levels to the local levels where it has to be applied.

25.  The German Government said that it was a successful Directive, providing an EU-wide coherent and systemic approach to water management, and that its "added value" was demonstrated by the much-improved co-operation between Member States on water resources, particularly where rivers cross international boundaries.[19] Its representative agreed that the WFD's targets were very ambitious and that the target that all water bodies should have good status by 2027 was "impossible ... nevertheless, the Directive gives us the push to get better. I think there will be real improvements."[20] Her own view was "no more directives, but do not change the existing system".[21]

26.  Evidence provided to us by the Environment Agency (EA) shed light on the extent to which some Member States had achieved "good status" for their water bodies in 2009, and the ambition which they had shown in planning for improvements by 2015. For France, the 2009 figure was 40%, planned to rise to 67% in 2015; for Germany, the 2009 figure was 22%, rising to 29% in 2015; for the Netherlands, the figure in 2009 was 4%, and an improvement to 20% was planned; for the UK, the 2009 figure was 24%, and a rise to 37% was planned for 2015.[22] We asked the EA to comment on the reasons why France planned an increase in "good status" from 40% to 67% from 2009 to 2015, while the UK would only go from 24% to 37%. In written evidence, the EA said that some of the French data might be "skewed by uncertainty. Some 30% of their water bodies had uncertain chemical status. By 2015, the French expect the majority of these waters to turn out to have good chemical status, and where this coincides with existing good ecological status then overall status will then be classed as good."[23]

27.  The Commission told us that, for the "fitness check", it had held its final stakeholder meeting in February 2012, which had shown that stakeholders considered the WFD as the right instrument to improve water quality and as providing the right balance, "but some have said that they need more time."[24]


Priority Substances

Priority substances are those identified as presenting a significant risk to or via the aquatic environment within the EU. These are listed in Annex X to the Water Framework Directive (WFD).

Some substances are identified as priority hazardous substances, because they have "ubiquitous, persistent, bio-accumulative and toxic" properties. Bio-accumulation is the progressive increase in the amount of a substance in an organism or part of an organism which occurs because the rate of intake exceeds the organism's ability to remove the substance from the body.

One example of a priority hazardous substance is perfluorooctane sulfonic acid. The acid and its derivatives are collectively known as PFOS, and are widely used in a variety of consumer goods. They are man-made chemicals which

break down into perfluorooctane sulfonate, a chemical that is a persistent organic pollutant. Once such pollutants are in the environment, they are very difficult to get rid of. They can cross international boundaries by air and water currents, and bio-accumulate to toxic levels in plants and animals.

Environmental quality standards (EQS) for these priority substances are set by the Environmental Quality Standards Directive (EQSD) 2008/105/EC, which is a "daughter" Directive of the WFD. The EQSs are set at levels of concentration which are safe for the aquatic environment and for human health. Compliance with these standards forms the basis of good chemical status under the WFD.

In addition to the objective of achieving such EQSs, there is an objective of the progressive reduction of discharges of priority substances, and a requirement to stop discharges of priority hazardous substances within 20 years of appropriate measures being introduced.

The WFD requires the Commission to review the priority substances list at least every four years.

28.  In January 2012, the Commission brought forward a proposal after a review of the existing 33 priority substances and their environmental quality standards (EQSs) established under the EQS Directive.[25] The proposal introduced nine new substances to the list of priority substances and six new substances to the list of priority hazardous substances, and changed the status of two priority substances to priority hazardous substances.

29.  The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) submitted an Explanatory Memorandum[26] about this proposal which drew attention to the introduction of the pharmaceuticals EE2 (used in the birth control pill) and diclofenac (a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) to the list of priority substances. While stating that limited data were available to assess the scale of the problem across the EU, Defra's Memorandum also said that the EA had estimated that it could cost about £27 billion over 20 years to install the necessary wastewater treatment technology in England and Wales to achieve the EQS for EE2. For Water UK, Ms Sarah Mukherjee said that the water industry was also worried by this estimate.[27]

30.  We discussed this new proposal with the representatives of the Commission. They explained the process whereby the list of substances included in the proposal had been selected, providing scientific verification that the substances were relevant and that the limit values proposed were appropriate for the protection of public health and the environment. The Commission said that the need for substantial investment in additional wastewater treatment could be reduced if other measures were taken to control the impact of pharmaceuticals, such as take-back schemes for unused medicines. The Commission referred to the flexibility allowed to Member States under the WFD, and said: "While one should refrain from saying that the only option is the most costly option, this needs a serious examination of what preventive measures can be taken. This is the spirit of the Water Framework Directive."[28] We take the point that "end-of-pipe" measures to deal with the polluting impact of chemicals in water are likely to be significantly more expensive than tackling the source of the chemicals' input. If it is clear that a polluting impact needs remedying, all options must be identified and considered.

31.  We set out our recommendations as regards the implementation of the Water Framework Directive at the end of this Chapter, after consideration of the specific experience in the UK. A central issue is the aspirational nature of the WFD, and the ambitious targets set for water quality over the period to 2027. On the one hand, this level of ambition is seen to be driving water resource management across the EU in a positive direction; on the other, the classification scheme, based on the "one out all out" principle, may serve to mask progress in water quality which secures improvements to some important criteria, but not all. The current discussion of the priority substances proposal has thrown this issue into sharp relief.

32.  EU water legislation encompasses Directives which pre-date the WFD. These include the Nitrates Directive; in February 2012, for example, the Commission announced that it had referred France to the EU Court of Justice for failing to take measures to guarantee that water pollution by nitrates was addressed effectively.[29] They also include the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive; the European Environment Agency has said that considerable progress has been made in its implementation, but that "full compliance is yet to be achieved, including the lack of more stringent tertiary treatment in some sensitive areas and inadequate treatment levels in wastewater treatment plants in some larger cities".[30] We return to the issue of older EU water legislation later in this Chapter.

33.  Drought conditions have occurred more frequently in the EU in recent years. The European Environment Agency has said that, comparing the impacts of droughts in the EU between 1976-90 and 1991-2006, there was a doubling in both area and population affected in the later period. In 2008, Cyprus suffered a fourth consecutive year of low rainfall; in the summer, with drought at a critical level, 30 water tankers sailed in from Greece; households were supplied with water for around 12 hours only three times a week.[31] For France, 2011 was the sixth driest year in the last half-century. Across the whole country, rainfall was down by around 17% against average levels, with wide regional variations; in South West France, the shortfall reached 40%.[32] According to the Met Office, while in 2011 the UK annual rainfall total was close to average, much of central, eastern and southern England had a persistent rainfall deficiency. Several Midland counties had their driest year on record.[33] In March 2012, the Environment Agency confirmed that South and East Yorkshire, East Anglia and South East England were in drought; in April, it said that drought conditions also applied in South West England and the Midlands.

34.  In 2007, the Commission published a Communication on water scarcity and droughts (see Box 3 in Chapter 3) which presented an initial set of policy options to increase water efficiency and water savings.[34] The Commission has said that a review of EU water scarcity and drought policy will form part of the Blueprint to be published in 2012. Feedback from the "fitness check" had shown that some issues, particularly relating to quantitative water management, had not been well covered by the WFD. Stakeholders did not think that this was the right time for new legislation,[35] even though current projections showed that water scarcity would increase in Europe.[36] This is in contrast to flooding, also projected to increase in Europe, which Member States are required to plan for and manage the risks of under the Floods Directive 2007/60/EC. We deal more fully with the relationship between EU water legislation and policy on water scarcity in the next Chapter.

Implementation in the UK

35.  In December 2011, the UK Government published the Water White Paper, "Water for Life".[37] In the executive summary, the Government state that "we have many exquisite stretches of water ... but only 27% of our rivers and lakes are fully functioning ecosystems. Under EU law we have a legal imperative to make a substantial improvement to this figure by 2027. We also have a clear moral imperative, and an economic one." It is clear that, in deciding on the measures to be included in the Water Bill that will follow the White Paper, the Government have the requirements of the Water Framework Directive in mind, alongside other important concerns bearing on water resource management.

36.  There are important differences between conditions affecting water management in the UK and conditions in other EU Member States. Because of the UK's island geography, the issue of trans-boundary basins is of far less significance than it is for continental countries. Moreover, as Professor Alan Jenkins, Deputy Director of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology told us: "... we have a very big gradient of not just population but also weather within the UK. For example, the north of Scotland receives 2.5 metres of rain per year; we in London probably get 0.5 metres, or a little over. That is a pretty big discrepancy. In theory it can be coped with within the Water Framework Directive, but, because the Water Framework Directive works on those thresholds, we suffer perhaps a little more than some other countries in the interpretation of those thresholds."[38]

37.  In his evidence to us, Mr Richard Benyon, MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at Defra, quoted the figure of 27% of rivers as fully functioning ecosystems, and added that there was "a desperate need to improve this situation".[39] We pressed Mr Benyon and his officials on whether the UK was approaching implementation of the WFD with sufficient ambition.

38.  One of his officials, Deputy Director, Water Availability and Quality Programme, Defra, said: "... what is often called our level of ambition—reaching 32% at good status, by 2015—is not really an ambition that we declared but reflects what we found we expected to achieve when we worked out what measures should be put in place and would work",[40] and he stressed that other improvements in the water environment were being achieved in parallel even if they did not result in changes to overall status classifications.

39.  Both Mr Benyon and his officials made it clear that 100% of UK waters would not reach good status by 2027, and that the provisions in the WFD on disproportionate cost and technical feasibility meant that a lower level than 100% was in keeping with the Directive. According to his officials, "the impact assessment we did at the start of the first cycle said, rather tentatively, that by projecting forward and taking account of where we thought we could foresee the benefits outweighing the costs of what might emerge as needing to be done, we would probably get to something like 75% good status by 2027."[41]

40.  Lord Smith of Finsbury, EA Chairman, also said that, given the population density of the UK and industrial and agricultural activity, it was unlikely that 100% of its waters would achieve good ecological status, though the existence of that ambition was important for the impulse that it gave.[42] The EA added, in the results reported by the EA in 2010 and 2011, "roughly, the same number of water bodies met good status, but underneath that the individual elements—around 1,400 separate quality elements—improved in status class. So big progress is being made but that did not change the headline measure."[43]

41.  When we asked representatives of the water industry about current and planned proportions of waters in this country with good status under the WFD, their answers focussed on the classification methodology and the "one out all out" principle. Severn Trent Water queried the scientific basis for the measurement of the criteria, and the net environmental benefit if water quality were to be improved at the cost of greater energy consumption for treatment plants: "There is a lack of flexibility in the system and the way it is currently implemented in the UK. Our problem is not with the Water Framework Directive; our problem is with the way it is implemented."[44] Ofwat (the Water Services Regulation Authority) similarly spoke of the need for EU directives to allow for greater flexibility to take account of local circumstances, and of a wish to see the "one out all out" approach disappear.[45]

42.  Written evidence from WWF (UK) expressed a different view. Referring to the RBMPs published by Defra in December 2009, that evidence stated: "The lack of action was illustrated by the ambition set out in the plans. These anticipated that the percentage of water bodies at good status by 2015 would rise from 27% to just 32% across England and Wales. The plans envisaged that the vast majority of improvements in water body status were anticipated as taking place between 2021 and the final 2027 deadline, but provided little to no clarity on how this sudden achievement of good status would be achieved."[46] Its representative told us that the long timescales set out under the WFD had been "open to interpretation", and that the WWF and other organisations had sought a judicial review of the 2009 RBMPs "because we felt that those timescales had been abused".[47]

43.  Professor Alan Jenkins said that the idea of having a "standardised tool" for comparing water quality across the EU was "excellent", though he recognised that issues remained to be resolved about settling the boundaries between the different status categories. He stressed the probability that a large proportion of surface waters in high population density countries are not going to achieve good status: "good status is a good step along the way, but we need to accept that good status will not be achieved everywhere. Therefore we need another measure".[48]

44.  Some of the evidence from UK witnesses lacked an awareness of the EU context, in which we have heard no strong voices calling for change. In our view, any expectations that changes should be made in the short term to the core elements of the Water Framework Directive, such as the objectives and timescales, are unrealistic, and unjustified. It is too soon to assess overall implementation of the Directive with any degree of certainty, though it is clear that Member States are finding it challenging to implement. While there seems to be no realistic prospect that Member States will secure the Directive's ambition that all rivers and water bodies should have good or high status by 2027, we agree with several witnesses that the aspiration to meet the demands of the Directive has already delivered substantial improvement in the management of water resources.

45.  We urge the Government, and others responsible for implementing the Directive in the UK, to act fully in the spirit of the Directive in driving forward improvements to water quality. Given the complexities of ecological status, this includes and requires flexibility in implementation, but this is reflected in provisions of the Directive. However, we are concerned the WFD may be perceived as too rigid to take climate change sufficiently into account. We view the "one out all out" basis for assessing status categories as a blunt and rigid method which fails to capture effectively the ecological as well as the chemical quality of water. While we do not call for regulatory change at this time, we urge the Commission to consider the "one out all out" rule specifically in its work on the Blueprint. In the short term, we see an urgent need for reporting on progress under the Directive to go beyond the "headline measure" of these categories and to show the progress made in the individual quality criteria. Member States may already choose to do this, but we call on the Commission to develop guidance, through the Common Implementation Strategy, to help in the communication of the wider extent of improvements being promoted under the WFD that may not be fully reflected in the assigned status of water bodies.

46.  We heard evidence, particularly from the EA, and the Westcountry Rivers Trust (WRT), about sampling and monitoring under the WFD. The WRT thought that the approach being used was flawed and amounted to continuing the traditional (chemical) ways of measuring water quality with an "ecological gloss". The WRT said in its further evidence: "We feel that water quality objectives at present are only quasi-ecological and are based mainly on an incomplete network of … point source samples which will detect chronic point source pollution but not diffuse acute pollution which is a primary characteristic of agricultural pollution. We feel that much more use and emphasis should be put on … biotic indices for macro-invertebrates."[49]

47.  We are very concerned that sampling methods may differ across the EU.[50] Should sampling not be consistent, data, knowledge and understanding will not be comparable. We recommend that the Commission examine this issue in some detail with a view to ensuring comparability of monitoring regimes across the EU.

48.  We mentioned earlier the February 2012 proposal on priority substances under the EQS Directive, and the estimate supplied by Defra that the cost of treatment technology to tackle certain pharmaceutical substances in wastewater could be around £27 billion. Mr Benyon also referred to the significant further investment that might be needed, and of the possibility that the use of exemptions under the WFD might undermine the overall objectives of the legislation.[51] We see a need for the Government, and the Commission, potentially through its European Innovation Partnership (EIP) on Water, to acquire more knowledge of the risk posed, principally by the pharmaceutical substances being added to the list, and of cost-effective methods of reducing this risk before effluent containing the substances requires wastewater treatment. These considerations must include the pharmaceutical manufacturers, not least because the "polluter pays principle"[52] means that they may be called on to contribute to mitigating the risk.

49.  Part of the background to the judicial review which the WWF and others launched in 2009 was a concern that a change was needed from the top-down process adopted for the first round of UK RBMPs, a shift away from what it called "a black-box, scientific-type exercise" and towards "putting community at the heart of river-based planning".[53] In 2011, the Government initiated trials of a catchment-based approach (see Chapter 4) to embody this shift. Mr Benyon spoke of this initiative, saying that "we really want the Commission to understand that this is an effective way forward."[54]

50.  We doubt that the Commission needs instruction in the benefits of community involvement, since public participation was always a key element of the WFD. We question, rather, whether those organisations responsible for implementation of the WFD in this country—the water companies, Ofwat, the EA and Defra itself—have the ability to "change their spots", and to subordinate ingrained habits of "top-down" activity to the need to encourage "bottom-up" input to water resource management. The WRT gave us its view that "the regulator is distracted from their core duty by doing a kind of outreach role".[55] The EA argued that the Agency had changed its approach since the legal challenge, and that it had the skills and the commitment to work collaboratively at local level.[56] Mr Benyon made clear his belief that the Agency was the right organisation for the job: "[it] is well led; it has a clear view of what the Government are trying to achieve and, despite the constraints of the spending round, it has produced a clear way forward on freshwater issues".[57]

51.  We take the view, however, that the roles of the various agencies in the UK have become confused and require clarification. We expect the Government, the Environment Agency, Ofwat and local government to act quickly on lessons learnt from the catchment management trials. We see it as incumbent upon the Government quickly to develop a more strategic approach to water resource management, with a particular view to overcoming reluctance by water companies to make capital investment. We welcome the indications in the Water White Paper that this is the chosen direction of travel for the Government. We note the EA's new additional role in this as the Government's body in England for advice on climate adaptation to organisations in key sectors on the actions needed to build resilience to the changes and impacts projected.

52.  We detected no great enthusiasm on the part of the Government for learning from experience elsewhere in the EU. We look to the Government, and to the Commission, to ensure that Member States take as much away from Common Implementation Strategy (CIS) discussions as they bring to them. At the same time, we fear that the CIS may be dominated by representatives of national agencies, to the exclusion of other partners—particularly the scientific community and the practitioners at local levels who are involved in day-to-day experience of managing the issues—in the implementation process. We urge the Commission to do more to assist with implementation and enforcement, including the sharing of best practice at all levels of governance and implementation, and to enhance the CIS discussions with non-Governmental input.

53.  Most witnesses emphasised their preference for the flexible, integrated approach of the Water Framework Directive compared to the rigid approach of other pieces of EU water legislation. The Minister was critical of the costs of implementing the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (UWWTD) and the Nitrates Directive.[58] Some other witnesses were supportive of the UWWTD: Professor Jenkins said that it had been "hugely successful" in reducing phosphorus concentration in lowland waters;[59] and the WWF attributed improvements in point-source pollution to measures taken under the UWWTD.[60] However, little support was voiced for the Nitrates Directive, though there was acknowledgement that addressing diffuse pollution caused by agricultural nutrient losses has led to positive initiatives such as Defra's Catchment Sensitive Farming programme. We received no conclusive evidence to support the early withdrawal of other elements of existing EU water legislation, but expect the Commission to pay particular attention to consideration of whether these pieces of legislation are still fit for purpose. We see the case in the longer term for the integrated approach of the Water Framework Directive increasingly to supplant more narrowly focussed legislation.

5   Q 258 Back

6   Q 262 Back

7   Q 205 Back

8   Q 121 Back

9   Q 124 Back

10   Q 260 Back

11   Q 222 Back

12   ibid Back

13   Q 205 Back

14   Q 132 Back

15   QQ 24-28 Back

16   EA supplementary written evidence Back

17   Q 217 Back

18   Q 221 Back

19   Q 126 Back

20   Q 141 Back

21   Q 132 Back

22   EA supplementary written evidence Back

23   EA further supplementary written evidence Back

24   Q 257 Back

25   COM(2011)876 Back

26 Back

27   Q 34 Back

28   Q 272 Back

29   See:  Back

30   See p. 10 of "The European Environment-State and Outlook 2010: Freshwater Quality": 

31   "The European Environment: State and Outlook 2010: Water Resources and Flows" Back

32   See:  Back

33   See:  Back

34   COM(2007)414: see Chapter 3 of this report. Back

35   Q 258 Back

36   Q 271 Back

37   CM 8230 Back

38   Q 60 Back

39   Q 281 Back

40   Q 289: the figure of 32% relates to England and Wales. Back

41   Q 286 Back

42   Q 237 Back

43   ibid Back

44   Q 26 Back

45   Q 167 Back

46   WWF, para 12 Back

47   Q 219 Back

48   QQ 81, 83 Back

49   Q 237 Back

50   See the EA's comment on the uncertain chemical status of some water bodies in France, at paragraph 25. Back

51   Q 299 Back

52   The polluter pays principle (which is incorporated into the Water Framework Directive) is intended to reflect the value of natural resources within public and private decision making and to bring private incentives in line with society's interest, for example, through taxes on polluting activities. Back

53   Q 219 Back

54   Q 290 Back

55   Q 191 Back

56   Q 249 Back

57   Q 296 Back

58   Q 299 Back

59   Q 67 Back

60   Q 224 Back

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