Flexibility in the European Water Framework Directive - A quick scan. Summary

24-08-2006 | Publication

Implementing the European Water Framework Directive (WFD) is forcing important decisions at the interface of ecology and economics. For example, how ambitious are the Dutch water policy targets? What is the WFD asking for? What are feasible ambitions and at what costs? Although the WFD seems to offer a broad scope for policy makers to set achievable ecological targets, it is not certain which ambitions and efforts will be considered adequate by the European Union.

Summary

Implementing the European Water Framework Directive (WFD) is forcing important decisions at the interface of ecology and economics. For example, how ambitious are the Dutch water policy targets? What is the WFD asking for? What are feasible ambitions and at what costs? Although the WFD seems to offer a broad scope for policy makers to set achievable ecological targets, it is not certain which ambitions and efforts will be considered adequate by the European Union.

The current policy with respect to the use of manure in agriculture and sewage treatment will result in a slight reduction of the phosphorus and nitrogen concentrations in regional surface waters in 2030, but the ecological water quality will improve little under this policy. Supplementary measures taken in water management and ecological design will enhance the improvement of water quality.

However, substantial improvement in water quality will require a great policy effort, especially for phosphorus. An extra reduction in the order of 20-25% will be required in the emission of phosphorus from sewage treatment plants and agriculture. From a juridical point of view, it is not clear if the water targets in the Natura 2000 areas (EU Habitats and Birds Directives) have to be achieved before 2015. Timely achievement of WFD targets for the five river basins in the Netherlands will require attunement of policies on water, nature, agriculture and spatial planning. A large measure of coordination at executive level will therefore be not asking too much in the time ahead.