European Water Framework Directive

The European Water Framework Directive (WFD) is a wide-ranging piece of legislation covering all water bodies including rivers, lakes, estuaries, coastal waters and ground waters. It was established in law in Northern Ireland in 2003 through the Water Environment (WFD) Regulations (Northern Ireland) (SR 2003 No. 544). DfI Rivers fully supports the implementation of the Directive and has a key role to play in ensuring its success.

Directive's aims

The main aim of the WFD is to raise the quality of all water bodies to ‘Good Ecological Status’ or better. This means that not only should the chemical water quality of our rivers, lakes and coastal areas be at good status, but also all associated biological elements such as plants, invertebrates and fish.

If any one of these elements are deemed to be below ‘Good Ecological Status’ then that water body will be determined to have failed to meet its target.

Some of our rivers have been modified so significantly (eg dams, floodwalls), that it is technically or economically unfeasible to reach ‘Good Ecological Status’. These water bodies have been designated as ‘Heavily Modified’ and must reach a different standard of ‘Good Ecological Potential’. This means that all feasible mitigation measures must be put in place to maximise the ecological potential of the water body ie. the best that it can be, given the changes that have been made in past years.

The river basin approach

A key feature in the implementation of the WFD is the development of River Basin Management Plans (RBMPs).

One RBMP is produced for each River Basin District (RBD) - in Northern Ireland there are four RBDs, one fully internal to Northern Ireland (ie North Eastern RBD), and three international (ie Neagh Bann, North Western and Shannon RBDs).

The plans were published in December 2009 and highlighted:

  • the current condition of the water environment
  • objectives for improving it
  • measures required to deliver these improvements

Further information on the plans can be found at the: Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs

DfI Rivers and the Water Framework Directive

The Government response to the Independent Flood Management Policy Review set out a flexible framework for the delivery of flood risk management for the next ten years and beyond. The impact of the WFD on DfI Rivers' work is recognised in this document including the requirement to consider:

  • sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS)
  • water level control to mitigate against floods
  • flood risk management plans to take account of WFD objectives
  • use of river management expertise to help meet WFD requirements
  • restoration works when required by the Directive
  • administering Schedules 5 and 6 in a manner that secures WFD compliance

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