Integrating the Water Framework Directive in EIA

12th March 2012

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Jo Murphy, from the Environment Agency's National Environmental Assessment Service, describes the benefits of incorporating Water Framework Directive assessments into environmental impact assessment (EIA) activities

At the National Environmental Assessment Service, we have been working to integrate the requirements of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) into our EIA process. We have found this creates significant efficiencies, benefiting the overall project development process. This article summarises some key lessons learned to date.

Screening and scoping

The need for WFD assessment starts before EIA screening, as WFD issues could trigger the need for a statutory EIA if deterioration cannot be avoided, or affect the path a project could take. However, do not fall into the trap of collecting too much information too early; a proportionate appraisal is needed to make such an early judgement call.

Key information that should be collated includes that on water body characteristics and the elements likely to be affected.

This helps identify what the important issues of the development are likely to be, improves consideration of the inter-relationships between issues and contributes to the start of any cumulative effects assessment.

Another activity, facilitated by the EIA, is consideration of who are the right consultees to engage with. WFD is an integrated approach; the skills needed tend to be from specialists (with an interest in invertebrates, vegetation, geomorphology or fisheries, for example). It is important to gain a number of opinions and perspectives and keep a robust record of points and decisions regarding compliance.

Options appraisal

In many of our projects, WFD gives us the backing to ensure a wide range of potential options are considered in our flood risk management projects, including better environmental options that seek to work with or promote natural processes.

We have found the iterative identification of impacts and mitigation helps us develop preferred and, ultimately, sustainable options. At this stage, it helps to consider Article 4.7 tests to ensure the final option will be compliant with the WFD’s requirements.

We also use the WFD to help identify improvements and wider benefits which can contribute to the delivery of the UK’s river basin management plans.


For the unwary there can be language differences between EIA and WFD. For example, impacts within the overall EIA can be minor, moderate or major, but the WFD requires a firm decision as to whether an option is compliant or not. Levels of acceptable uncertainty are therefore lower for the WFD than for some associated EIA components.

We have found that integrating the WFD assessment clearly and succinctly within the topic chapters, as well as including a clear WFD statement within the conclusion, is the most efficient reporting mechanism. However, if the WFD issues are complex or need resolution before the production of the statement, a separate assessment may be required.

Reporting and follow up

We seek to ensure that clear statements on WFD compliance are present within our environmental statements and within internal business cases for flood risk management funding. We concisely set out the achievement of WFD objectives and the project’s overall contribution to sustainable development.

Monitoring is particularly important, in terms of the scheme itself – for example, if there is uncertainty as to the scale of the impact or whether the impact is sufficient to alter the status of a water body – and its contribution to future assessments and decision making. Monitoring may also take place to ensure the success of improvements.

An example in practice: Slad Brook

The Slad Brook flood alleviation scheme’s preferred option included two flood storage areas. The scoping consultation predicted significant negative environmental impacts, in relation to fish passage and loss of gravel spawning areas (due to siltation). This was considered likely to cause deterioration of the whole water body and prevent future improvements.

The first approach considered was to develop a long list of mitigation, but even with those measures in place, deterioration and restrictions on future improvement was still predicted.

An early review of Article 4.7 criteria revealed the scale of the benefits were not sufficient to make the scheme compliant at the water body level. These issues contributed to a rethink by the project team.

An earlier option, which was better for the environment but had previously been dismissed, was revisited and through the integration of the WFD work into the appraisal, was ultimately re-selected as the preferred solution and taken forward.

The revised option, which comprises catchment-scale land management activities and individual property protection, meets not only the flood risk objectives, compliant with WFD, as with a stronger environmental basis it works better with natural processes.

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

The National Environmental Assessment Service's approach is set out in a longer paper and will be discussed in a EIA Quality Mark webinar in May.

Jo Murphy is the national technical manager at the National Environmental Assessment Service


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