Improving Water Framework Directive compliance assessments

15th April 2013


Related Topics

Related tags

  • Adaptation ,
  • Mitigation

Author

IEMA

Ashley Carton, from Black & Veatch, discusses how practitioners can enhance Water Framework Directive compliance assessments (WDFCAs)

WFDCA are now a mandatory requirement for all new modifications to water bodies in the EU and have quickly become an integral part of environmental assessments of the aquatic environment, however, much can be done to refine the execution of these assessments.

In 2011, interviews were carried out with environment practitioners responsible for carrying out WFDCA on some of the UK’s foremost water management construction schemes, as well as with the then head of the Environment Agency’s National Environmental Assessment Service (NEAS).

The interviews covered key issues encountered in WFDCA, including how easy they were to complete, their place in the environmental assessment regime and their contribution to sustainable development.

WFDCA were deemed as highly successful in emphasising ecological and hydromorphological concerns, and in providing the legal backing needed to maintain this focus.

However, a number of concerns were raised about the completion of assessments, including the lack of accessible and high-quality water body information; an overreliance on expert judgement; and the high level of certainty that is required, but not easily achieved.

Based on these results a list of recommendations has been drawn up to suggest improvements to the WFDCA procedure that would ensure their effective, efficient and consistent completion. These include:

Improved quality and availability of baseline data

Pragmatism is essential; the best use must be made of available data since its collection is expensive. However, it is clear that data issues rank highly among the challenges faced by consultants completing assessments. There is consensus that the baseline data contained in river basin management plans (RBMPs) need to be improved as a matter of urgency both in terms of quality and availability. The availability of more specific guidance on where water-quality class boundaries and “tripping” thresholds fall would also be useful, as well as material indicating when a scheme might be at risk of either failing to be WFD compliant or of causing deterioration.

Increased professional consultation

Expert judgement is a crucial part of WFDCA; it is used to identify and screen possible options and to assess relevant effects and mitigation measures. However, it was felt by those interviewed that the exercise of expert judgement in decision-making must be complemented by extensive collaboration. When reviewing assessments the Environment Agency looks for evidence that decisions are supported by more than one practitioner and that opinions have been sought from specialists within the agency. Owing to the relative novelty of WFDCAs regular discussions are to be encouraged between consultants from different organisations, perhaps in an online forum, to discuss problems as they arise.

Increased involvement of NGOs in RBMP

Close working relationships between stakeholders are necessary for the effective implementation of WFDCA. The output of the interviews suggested that more contact was required with local agencies with a working knowledge of water bodies in RBMPs, to corroborate the science in the plans. Contributions should also be sought from the River Trust, the River Restoration Centre, fisheries, landowners and farmers. Strong links ought to be fostered between the Environment Agency and other organisations that monitor water bodies in order to establish common databases.

Monitoring

Monitoring is crucial to the management of complex ecosystems and in reporting on their status and any improvements to the rest of the EU. Monitoring would help to ensure that the measures proposed in WFDCA are incorporated into the operation of schemes; it would also prove vital to informing future projects.

Early consideration of WFD objectives

It is essential that WFD issues are considered from the beginning of a scheme to help identify the best possible option for the environment. The appropriate implementation of WFDCA at strategic environmental assessment level is very important to the effective delivery of the WFD. This can be problematic, however, as the scoping stage of WFDCA demands much more detail than the scoping stage of a traditional environmental impact assessment. The overlap between the assessment levels can also create problems of duplication in ecological and water-quality data.

Evolving guidance documents

It is imperative that the Environment Agency continues to provide up-to-date, clear and concise guidance material on effective implementation of WFDCA. These should cover emergent issues, such as the effectiveness of different mitigation measures, and any recent revisions to them, while also addressing the issues causing most confusion for practitioners. Suggestions from the interviews included potentially incorporating a more mechanistic template into parts of WFDCA documentation, and increased guidance on linking ecology and hydromorphology in assessments.

The implementation and execution of WFDCA in the UK is of the utmost importance, and the engineering design and construction industry have a key role to play in its integration into the sustainable development of the water environment. By addressing the above recommendations it will be possible to strengthen the knowledge base on which decisions in the WFDCA process are made.


This article was written as a contribution to the EIA Quality Mark’s commitment to improving EIA practice.

Ashley Carton is a graduate environmental scientist at Black & Veatch

Subscribe

Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.


Transform articles

EU and UK citizens fear net-zero delivery deficit

Support for net zero remains high across the UK and the EU, but the majority of citizens don't believe that major emitters and governments will reach their climate targets in time.

16th May 2024

Read more

There is strong support for renewable energy as a source of economic growth among UK voters, particularly among those intending to switch their support for a political party.

16th May 2024

Read more

Taxing the extraction of fossil fuels in the world’s most advanced economies could raise $720bn (£575bn) by 2030 to support vulnerable countries facing climate damages, analysis has found.

2nd May 2024

Read more

The largest-ever research initiative of its kind has been launched this week to establish a benchmark for the private sector’s contribution to the UK’s 2050 net-zero target.

2nd May 2024

Read more

Weather-related damage to homes and businesses saw insurance claims hit a record high in the UK last year following a succession of storms.

18th April 2024

Read more

The Scottish government has today conceded that its goal to reduce carbon emissions by 75% by 2030 is now “out of reach” following analysis by the Climate Change Committee (CCC).

18th April 2024

Read more

The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) has issued a statement clarifying that no changes have been made to its stance on offsetting scope 3 emissions following a backlash.

16th April 2024

Read more

While there is no silver bullet for tackling climate change and social injustice, there is one controversial solution: the abolition of the super-rich. Chris Seekings explains more

4th April 2024

Read more

Media enquires

Looking for an expert to speak at an event or comment on an item in the news?

Find an expert

IEMA Cookie Notice

Clicking the ‘Accept all’ button means you are accepting analytics and third-party cookies. Our website uses necessary cookies which are required in order to make our website work. In addition to these, we use analytics and third-party cookies to optimise site functionality and give you the best possible experience. To control which cookies are set, click ‘Settings’. To learn more about cookies, how we use them on our website and how to change your cookie settings please view our cookie policy.

Manage cookie settings

Our use of cookies

You can learn more detailed information in our cookie policy.

Some cookies are essential, but non-essential cookies help us to improve the experience on our site by providing insights into how the site is being used. To maintain privacy management, this relies on cookie identifiers. Resetting or deleting your browser cookies will reset these preferences.

Essential cookies

These are cookies that are required for the operation of our website. They include, for example, cookies that enable you to log into secure areas of our website.

Analytics cookies

These cookies allow us to recognise and count the number of visitors to our website and to see how visitors move around our website when they are using it. This helps us to improve the way our website works.

Advertising cookies

These cookies allow us to tailor advertising to you based on your interests. If you do not accept these cookies, you will still see adverts, but these will be more generic.

Save and close