River basin management plans out for consultation

UK environment agencies published draft river basin management plans on 22 December last year, a key stage in the implementation of the EU water framework Directive

The plans – 12 covering England, Scotland and Wales and three for Northern Ireland – set out water quality problems in each river basin district. The agencies put forward ‘programmes of measures’ needed to counter these problems and a timetable for action. Typically these measures include improvements to sewage works and sewers; improved land management practices by farmers to reduce nutrient and pesticide runoff; better management of surface and road runoff by local authorities and the Highways Agency; reductions of abstractions to maintain river flows; and modifications to lessen the impact of engineering works designed to aid navigation, development, or flood defence.

The objective is to achieve ‘good ecological status’ by 2027, or ‘good ecological potential’ in the case of heavily modified water bodies such as canals and reservoirs.

The 2027 date represents the end of three six-year river basin management cycles, the first of which will begin this year and end in 2015. The agencies do not find it feasible to meet good ecological status in many water bodies by 2015 – the Directive’s first deadline. But the Directive allows achieving the goal to be put off until 2027 where costs would be ‘disproportionate’ or where it is not technically feasible to meet the 2015 target.

The Environment Agency notes that, using the stringent water quality classification devised for the Directive, just 23% of water bodies in England and Wales currently achieve good status. The plans will see just 28% of waters to meet the target by 2015 – leaving the lion’s share of the improvements to be delivered in the final two planning cycles.

The agencies ask for comments on the proposals by 22 June. They particularly seek advice on measures that might be included which might deliver water quality improvements more cost effectively.

Environment Agency chief executive Paul Leinster, said: "We have made significant progress over the last 20 years in improving the quality of waters in England and Wales. Now we need to ensure everyone focuses their efforts to improve the health of water further… We are now asking for your views and, in particular, what other actions should be taken to improve the wetland environment. This is your opportunity to have your say."

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