Water Framework Directive

In response to the increasing threat of pollution and the increasing demand from the public for cleaner rivers, lakes and beaches, the EU developed the Water Framework Directive (WFD). This Directive is unique in that, for the first time, it establishes a framework for the protection of all waters including rivers, lakes, estuaries, coastal waters and groundwater, and their dependent wildlife/habitats under one piece of environmental legislation. Specifically the WFD aims to:

  • protect/enhance all waters (surface, ground and coastal waters)
  • achieve "good status" for all waters by December 2015
  • manage water bodies based on river basins or catchments
  • involve the public

The Water Framework Directive is linked to a number of other EU directives in several ways. These include Directives relating to the protection of biodiversity (Birds and Habitats Directives), directives related to specific uses of waters (drinking water, bathing waters and urban waste water directives) and to directives concerned with the regulation of activities undertaken in the environment (Industrial Emissions and Environmental Impact Assessment directives). More recent directives on topics such as Floods and the Marine Strategy Framework have significant linkages with the WFD which is also supplemented by the Priority Substances Directive and the Groundwater Directive. The Nitrates Directive forms an integral part of the Water Framework Directive and is one of the key instruments in the protection of waters against agricultural pressures. The Sustainable Use of
Pesticides and the Sewage Sludge Directives also provide for the control of materials applied to land.

 WFD Interaction with other EU legislation

Figure 1: WFD Interaction with other EU Legislation (Source: SWMI‌, 2015)

The “basic measures” required by Article 11 of the WFD include implementation of measures required by the following directives: Bathing Water, Habitats, Birds, Drinking Water, Major Accidents (Seveso), EIA, Sewage Sludge, UWWT, Plant Protection Products, Nitrates and IPPC.

Transposing the WFD into Irish Law

The WFD has been transposed into Irish law by means of the following main Regulations. These Regulations cover governance, the shape of the WFD characterisation, monitoring and status assessment programmes in terms of assigning responsibilities for the monitoring of different water categories, determining the quality elements and undertaking the characterisation and classification assessments.

  • European Communities (Water Policy) Regulations, 2003 (S.I. No. 722 of 2003)
  • European Communities Environmental Objectives (Surface Waters) Regulations, 2009 (S.I. No. 272 of 2009)
  • European Communities Environmental Objectives (Groundwater) Regulations, 2010 (S.I. No. 9 of 2010)
  • European Communities (Good Agricultural Practice for Protection of Waters) Regulations, 2010 (S.I. No. 610 of 2010)
  • European Communities (Technical Specifications for the Chemical Analysis and Monitoring of Water Status) Regulations, 2011 (S.I. No. 489 of 2011)
  • European Union (Water Policy) Regulations 2014 (S.I. No. 350 of 2014)

The EPA's Role

First Cycle: During the first cycle of the WFD, the EPA was assigned a large number of tasks under the European Communities (Water Policy) Regulations, 2003 (S.I. No. 722 of 2003), which come under the category of “coordination and oversight” of the Irish WFD programme. This meant that the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (DECLG) has delegated the task of national coordination of all the technical aspects of the WFD to the EPA, while retaining ownership of the economic and policy aspects of the Directive. 

Second Cycle: These tasks have been extended during the second cycle to include drafting environmental objectives, undertaking catchment characterisation, preparing template river basin management plans and compiling common programme of measures for further development and input by local authorities and finalisation and approval by the Minister for the Environment.

EPA Actions under the 1st Cycle of the WFD

  • Article 5 – Water Body Characterisation                                                                                                                                                                                                         The EPA helped the RBDs delineate the WFD water management units (water bodies) and in the characterisation of significant pressures within these water bodies that could impact on water resources.
  • Article 8 – Monitoring and Status Assessments
    The EPA took responsibility for the establishment of programmes for the monitoring of water status in order to establish a comprehensive overview of water status within each RBD.
    • In October 2006, the EPA published the WFD Monitoring Programme, which assigned tasks to the EPA, Local Authorities, Marine Institute and IFI, on the basis of their existing competencies. Subsequently, the EPA negotiated with the Marine Institute and with two Government Departments to secure the resources for the Marine Institute to carry out its monitoring role, starting in 2011.
    • The EPA advised the DECLG on the development of environmental standards and the water body classification criteria that were included in the respective Surface Water (S.I. No. 272 of 2009) and Groundwater (S.I. No. 9 of 2010) Regulations. The EPA also classified the status of water bodies through an assessment of monitoring data against the standards and criteria identified in the respective Regulations. This assessment acted as the cornerstone of the River Basin Management Plans that were produced for each RBD.
  • Article 10 – Combined Use for Point and Diffuse Sources
    The EPA implements this Article through the licensing function, which is led by the OCLR team.
  • Article 11 – Programme of Measures
    The EPA was requested by DECLG to create a national data management system and to compile a report on the implementation of measures to prevent deterioration of surface water and groundwater.
  • Article 13 – River Basin Management Plans (RBMPs)
    The lead role on implementing this article in the first cycle of implementing the WFD was assigned to the RBDs and the first round of plans were prepared in 2009. The main EPA role was to provide each RBD with classification assessments for water bodies and to advise the Minister on the amendments, if any, which the EPA considers ought to be made to the plan(s). Based on the EPA assessment, the DECLG has initiated a review of WFD governance for subsequent WFD cycles.
  • Article 15 – Reporting
    The EPA has taken a lead role in reporting on behalf of Ireland to the EU Commission and to the European Environment Agency (EEA) on implementation of WFD tasks, and has delivered in full on the national commitments in this area. This has been a key deliverable in terms of meeting the statutory objectives of the WFD programme.
    In addition to the technical roles assigned to the EPA under the Regulations, the EPA also coordinates the activities of the River Basin Districts, Local Authorities and State Agencies in implementing the Directive. It also facilitates and carries out necessary research and participates at National and International meetings in relation to the Directive.

  Water Framework Directive Cycle Image

The WFD River Basin Management Planning Cycle


Aquatic Monitoring and Assessment Programme

Groundwater, rivers, lakes, transitional and coastal waters are the four water categories of the aquatic monitoring and assessment programme that the EPA and Ireland report on when assessing whether the environmental objectives of the WFD are being met. Monitoring and assessment of water body status are an integral part of the management strategy for water to meet the WFDs objectives. The first official WFD Monitoring Programme became operational on 22 December 2006.

You can find further information about the results in the EPA's Water Publications and Reports.