Water Framework Directive compliance in EIA

19th December 2014

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  • Pollution & Waste Management ,
  • Water ,
  • Natural resources ,
  • Ecosystems


Rachael Dillon

Alexander Scorey of Hyder Consulting discusses the integrating Water Framework Directive (WFD) assessments into wider environmental impact assessments (EIA) and habitats regulations assessments (HRA) to improve project efficiency.

“Directive 2000/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a framework for the Community action in the field of water” otherwise known as the WFD, was adopted by the EU in 2000. It established a framework for maintaining and improving the quality of European coastal, estuarine, river, lake and ground waters and water bodies. This quality is monitored via chemical, biological and hydromorphological indicators which are used to report on the overall status of each water body. The aim is for water bodies to achieve “good” status, which means that the water body has the optimum chemical, biological and hydromorphological qualities for a safe, clean and biodiverse water environment.

Every six years, each EU member state must report on their progress in achieving the target of “good” status in their water bodies. The United Kingdom reported in 2009 through the River Basin Management Plans, and will be reporting again in 2015. Progress will have been made for all water bodies, but the target will not have been reached and the government will set out further measures in the 2015 River Basin Management Plans to meet this target.

Towards compliance

Projects within, or that could affect, the water environment must demonstrate that they will not cause a deterioration of the status of water bodies in their zone of influence, or that they will not inhibit their future achievement of “good” status.

This assurance involves, an assessment of the effect of the project on the various indicator criteria for each water body.

To integrate this assessment with other wider environmental assessments, such as EIA or HRA, an initial assessment should be made of the project against the WFD quality criteria. This can be undertaken during the scoping process of a statutory EIA or HRA.

Simple baseline data for each water body can be found within Appendix B of the 2009 River Basin Management Plans with more complex baseline data on the indicators used to classify water bodies within the UK to be found here. This information is useful in developing the context for an initial assessment and identifying the critical thresholds that a project must not affect, to achieve compliance.

This initial assessment should take a systematic approach in considering each aspect of the project during construction, operation and decommissioning (if applicable) individually, and identify whether an aspect could potentially compromise the achievement of the various chemical, biological or hydromorphological criteria of the water bodies. This assessment can often be carried out by an environmental coordinator, if they have the skills and experience, which can save time and expense to project developers.

The outcome of this initial assessment should identify any potential effects from the project that could compromise WFD objectives. This data can then be used to scope more detailed assessment work required to show compliance. Initial assessments should be informed by consultation with the regulatory bodies (Environment Agency in England, Natural Resources Wales in Wales) and the outcomes should be discussed with them also to agree the methodology and scope of the assessment.

If the initial assessment is undertaken concurrently with the EIA or HRA scoping, and early in the project, a comprehensive scope of works can be drawn up which covers all the survey and assessment requirements to comply with this legislation. This will minimise extra costs and programme delays during the later stages of the projects. Assessments required for an EIA or HRA are often similar to those required for a WFD assessment, so the overlapping nature of the requirements can also drive project efficiency.

In conclusion, by considering the WFD early in a project, engaging with the appropriate regulatory body, and integrating the process into wider environmental assessments, the burden of demonstrating compliance with the directive can be greatly reduced for project developers.

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

Alexander Scorey is a senior environmental consultant at Hyder Consulting

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