The European Union’s Water Framework Directive (WFD) (2000/60/EC) came into force
in December 2000 and became part of UK law in December 2003.
The WFD requires the water bodies (both surface and groundwater) of all European Union member states to achieve ‘good ecological status’ or ‘good ecological potential’ by 2027. The Directive also requires that no water bodies experience deterioration in status. Good status means good ecological status and good chemical status, as defined by a number of quantifiable quality elements:
Biological– fish, invertebrates, macrophytes, etc
Hydromorphological – channel morphology, connectivity, etc
Physio-chemical – phosphate, nitrate, dissolved oxygen, etc
Chemical – pollutants, heavy metals, etc
The Water Framework Directive works on the ‘one-out all-out policy’, meaning that if just one individual quality element is not achieving good status for a particular watercourse then the entire waterbody is classified as failing. Moreover, the inclusion in the classification criteria of Biological/Ecological quality and the hydromorphological conditions has resulted in failures in many water bodies that were previously classified as Good on Chemical criteria.
Very few of the waterbodies in the Aire catchment currently meet the standards set by the Water Framework Directive, so there is plenty to be done.
The WFD sets an enormous challenge in meeting the objectives of the improvement and the protection of the water environment and is the major driver for the sustainable management of water in the UK. The water environment includes all rivers, canals, lakes, estuaries, wetlands and coastal waters as well as water under the ground.
The WFD is seen by many as the most fundamental piece of water legislation ever, as it aims to restore the biodiversity and function of all surface freshwater bodies.
The free passage of fish (especially migratory fish) is a key requirement of the WFD, with fish being used as one of the indicators for assessing whether water bodies are meeting ‘good status’ for all ground and surface waters in the EU.