The Water Framework Directive: Action Programmes and Adaptation to Climate Change

The Water Framework Directive: Action Programmes and Adaptation to Climate Change


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Proceedings of a conference on "Integrated River Basin Management under the Water Framework Directive", held at Le Nouveau Siècle, Lille, France on 26th-28th April 2010. The book reviews technical challenges faced by EU Member States, stakeholder organisations and scientists while developing the first River Basin Management Plan under the Water Framework Directive (WFD). It focusses on aspects of multi-sectoral and multidisciplinary integration and how emerging issues such as adaptation to climate change will be considered in the future.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781849730532
Publisher: Royal Society of Chemistry, The
Publication date: 11/26/2010
Series: Special Publications Series , #324
Pages: 222
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 0.70(d)

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The Water Framework Directive

Action Programmes and Adaptation to Climate Change

By Philippe Quevauviller, Ulrich Borchers, K. Clive Thompson, Tristan Simonart

The Royal Society of Chemistry

Copyright © 2011 The Royal Society of Chemistry
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84973-229-1





Bob Harris

Strategy Director, Catchment Science Centre, Kroto Research Institute, University of Sheffield, Broad Lane, Sheffield, S3 7HQ, UK


Our environment is a complex system of connections between natural processes and the social pressures that disrupt them. A changing climate and an increasingly global market gives rise to uncertainties in sustaining the ecosystem services we currently enjoy and, reinforced by the newer environmental European Directives, it means that we now face a challenge of considering the whole system rather than continue to manage its individual components. This challenge requires a different way of interacting with our environment based on an understanding of the critical linkages in the system that drive the services we require from it, at a scale that is commensurate with how society works. To do this we need to develop and use knowledge, which is a combination of local experience, wisdom and scientific understanding. The scale that is increasingly being adopted across the world is that of the river catchment, considered to be the most appropriate for the necessary building of collaborations between multiple stakeholders and the development of capacity to deal with the issues identified.


The development of river basin management has progressed through three broad phases in Western Europe and, although the time-scales may differ slightly, this is broadly the case throughout most of the developed world. These may be categorised as: a sanitisation provision phase (1850s to 1950s), when the emphasis was on clean water supplies and safe sewage disposal; a pollution control stage (1950s to today), where the emphasis has been on water quality improvement through the control of polluting discharges (point source pollution), and we are currently moving into a sustainable development phase, where there is a dawning realisation that an holistic approach to environmental issues is necessary to meet sustainable development aspirations.

It is increasingly evident that the management of water and land cannot continue as isolated activities divorced from each other or other aspects of life. Our environment is intimately connected to social, economic and political factors at several scales, ranging from international legislation and the policies that flow from them to the choices made by people. The management of water resources and rural land for food production are just two elements of an interdependent web of environmental, social and economic components that form a highly complex and interconnected system. This system delivers a whole range of ecosystem services, which include many aspects that we currently find difficult to value and thus compare. Changes in one component can cascade through the system to result in a series of synergistic and conflicting changes elsewhere. On top of this are the uncertainties brought about by global changes in climate, markets and society.

This new realisation that we live in a complex, integrated and changing world puts our existing management concepts and structures for the environment under severe stress. What was suitable for addressing earlier priorities is not appropriate now. Indeed our current governance and management systems, which have evolved in a compartmentalised way over the years, are not "fit for purpose" to meet the challenges ahead. There is a need to adapt our management concepts and practices and explore more appropriate model(s) and at which scales they should be applied. A fundamental question therefore arises, what model of water and/or environmental management is best, and where, and can we adapt sufficiently to accept the changes required? This paper considers some of these issues in the context of the UK and the challenges currently facing the new administration.


It is useful to appreciate the background to the current governance arrangements. The current UK model for water management has evolved from one that in 1970 was organised around local (town/village) management of drinking water and sanitation with some river basin scale administration of selected strategic functions, such as fisheries management, by River (Purification) Boards and Authorities. The amalgamation of all water-related functions at the level of river basins took place in 1974 followed by a further scaling up of activities relating to overall water quality and water resources in 1985, through the privatisation of the water industry and the formation of the National Rivers Authority. The consolidation of more environmental management regulation to form a centralised system has continued with the creation in 1997 of the Environment Agency). Over the past 13 years it has become larger and increasingly rigid with strengthened links to central government (Defra) although, apart from flood risk management, separated from local government. During this 40-year transition environmental legislation and the associated regulatory controls have increased significantly. However, the legislation has developed in a piecemeal way such that the focus is on discrete activities or environmental areas (waste management, water quantity, water quality, groundwater etc). The result is that we manage the environment in a compartmentalised way driven by discrete legislative objectives translated into regulatory goals. It is difficult to join up these objectives at either national policy or local delivery levels, as we have become increasingly target driven, the targets based on the legislative silos.

In the UK little connects the policy-making level with the implementation activities being carried out in isolation at local levels, resulting in a two-way lack of communication. This lack of vertical integration leads to policy failures due to disconnects between the levels, and also to poor coordination of local-scale activities. In addition the policy connectivity across sectors, for example conservation, water quality, agriculture and flood risk is not well integrated. Current policies are largely directed at single components of the environment, supporting discrete legislative requirements, and while there is an increasing awareness of the need for developing better synergy there is slow progress. So an environmental management system has developed that is top-down, inflexible, compartmentalised and not well integrated within and between different scales or levels of activity and governance.

Perhaps the biggest barrier to a more integrated approach is a disconnect between environmental policy at local and national government levels. Although local authorities administer spatial planning controls, these are largely disengaged from environmental policy, and local authority involvement in a political, financial or regulatory sense is largely confined to urban issues such as waste, litter, traffic and noise, with little impact upon wider environmental objectives and the rural environment. The potential for the spatial planning system to play a role in an integrated environmental management approach is not being realised, particularly with respect to the water environment.


The introduction of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) has the potential to affect change from the current piecemeal approach. Bringing together several European Directives that relate to water, it is a legislative platform that provides an opportunity to design an appropriate framework for a more holistic approach. With its focus on improving the aquatic environment, it embraces the concept that a healthy river is a surrogate for a healthy river catchment – i.e. the land surrounding the river that drains to it. The management of the land has become an integral part of managing the water. So a healthy river catchment is able to support and deliver a wide range of ecosystem services, including food production (agriculture) and leisure amenities.

As discussed above, a particular challenge for the UK is that the current centralised, top-down institutional framework does not create a sufficiently flexible setting for the development of the more informed, participative and adaptive approaches required. In respect of the first round of River Basin Plans (RBPs) the Environment Agency (the government's policy delivery agency for England and Wales) has used existing data, knowledge and governance structures that perpetuate the top-down, uniform approach. RBPs are assemblages of existing activities where any recognition of local scale activity is piecemeal.

With the current style of implementation, the opportunity is not being grasped and significant inroads into achieving the WFD objectives and goals are not likely. In particular, there appears to be little desire to consider the trade-offs, conflicts and synergies that exist when multiple policies and regulations affect multiple ecosystem services within catchments. This integrated analysis of policy is a key element of an Integrated Catchment Management (ICM) approach.


More integrated concepts have been developing since the early 1900s, but it is only in the last 20 or 30 years that Integrated Catchment Management has gained prominence as a potentially valid management approach. Different terminologies are used including Integrated Water Management, Integrated River Basin Management, and Integrated Water Resource Management, but essentially describe the same concept. Consensus over a definition of what ICM actually means similarly varies, but the most often used definition was developed by the Global Water Partnership (GWP) in 2000, defining the concept as "a process which promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land and related resources, in order to maximise the resultant economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems".

The emergence of such approaches to the management of catchments was initially stimulated by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, with the publication of Agenda 21 and the Dublin Principles. The continued support for an integrated approach was shown through the subsequent development of a number of organisations such as the World Water Council and the GWP, and the call for integrated river basin management at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002. During the same period, the principle of taking an ecosystem approach to the management of our environment has developed, recognising that humans are an integral part of ecosystems and that humans receive a wide range of benefits from ecosystems. These twin drivers of integrated management of catchments and the re-integration of humans within ecosystems provide new challenges and opportunities for future catchment management.

Australia has been one of the pioneers of an overt ICM approach and the Department of Primary Industries, Victoria, Australia have defined some of the benefits that accrue from its adoption. They include:

• A more holistic appreciation of land.

• The integration of social and economic needs with natural ecosystems and the long term use of natural resources.

• A clearer identification of roles and responsibilities for environmental management.

• The development of structures and mechanisms for co-ordination and cooperation.

• The development of social commitment and cohesion.

• A focus for attracting technical and financial resources allowing better utilization of local resources.

• The provision of a forum for local interests and can result in early identification of potential problems.

• The provision of a forum for feedback to Government.

• Healthier catchments which equate to a healthy environment.

• More robust communities


Several administrations (e.g. in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the USA) have adopted integrated approaches for several years while others apply an integrated approach to land and water management without specifically labelling it as such (e.g. Netherlands, Denmark). Three examples are outlined which help illustrate some of the concepts of ICM. A set of guiding principles is promoted by the US EPA with regards to their "Watershed Approach":

Geographic Focus (Scale) - Activities are directed within specific geographic areas, typically the areas that drain to surface water bodies or that recharge or overlay ground waters or a combination of both.

Partnerships - Those people most affected by management decisions are involved throughout and shape key decisions. This ensures that environmental objectives are well integrated with those relating to economic stability and other social and cultural goals. It also provides that the people who depend upon the natural resources within the watersheds (catchments) are well informed of, and participate in, planning and implementation activities.

Sound Management Techniques based on Strong Science and Data - Collectively, watershed stakeholders employ sound scientific data, tools, and techniques in an iterative decision making process. This includes:

• assessment and characterization of the natural resources and the communities that depend upon them;

• goal setting and identification of environmental objectives based on the condition or vulnerability of resources and the needs of the aquatic ecosystem and the people within the community;

• identification of priority problems;

• development of specific management options and action plans;

• implementation; and

• evaluation of effectiveness and revision of plans, as needed.

Because stakeholders work together, actions are based upon shared information and a common understanding of the roles, priorities, and responsibilities of all involved parties. Concerns about environmental justice are addressed and, when possible, pollution prevention techniques are adopted. The iterative nature of the watershed approach encourages partners to set goals and targets and to make maximum progress based on available information while continuing analysis and verification in areas where information is incomplete. The Maitland River Watershed in Ontario has developed a common process that outlines a sequence of activity that should be followed for any given place. The process is iterative in nature and a monitoring/verification strategy has to be built in:

1. Understand the system and the issues

2. Build technical capacity to evaluate the problems

3. Build collaboration within and between the stakeholders

4. Improve water quality/hydromorphology

5. Improve the ecosystem goods and services The EU FP7 coordination action project RISKBASE, synthesising experience from researchers, stakeholders and practitioners across Europe, suggested the integrated application of three key-principles at the scale of the river catchment: being well informed, managing adaptively and taking a participatory approach:

Being well informed: implying that a sound understanding of the functioning of the natural system, the socio-economic system and their interaction is the basis to river basin management.

Managing adaptively: using our best available understanding on how river ecosystems function will improve river basin management, but uncertainties will always remain because social and ecological systems, especially at larger scales, are extremely complex and dynamic and can respond in non-linear and unexpected ways. We can never know it all. We may be able to cope with these uncertainties by applying the concept of adaptive management, characterized as 'learning-by-doing' or "learning to manage by managing to learn".

Taking a participatory approach: Participatory processes involve stakeholders in management and aim to enable them to exchange their views and opinions on problems and bring their knowledge to the table. By learning together to understand the land-water system in a better way, better solutions can be found.


Excerpted from The Water Framework Directive by Philippe Quevauviller, Ulrich Borchers, K. Clive Thompson, Tristan Simonart. Copyright © 2011 The Royal Society of Chemistry. Excerpted by permission of The Royal Society of Chemistry.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Scene Setting; Chapter 2: Integrating Ecosystem and Environmental Knowledge; Chapter 3: Integrating Climate Change Hazards; Chapter 4: Threats to Water Resources at River Basin Scale; Chapter 5: Stakeholder's views and Science-Policy Interfacing

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