The government has a legal duty to assess and report on the ecological status of its water bodies every three years under the Water Framework Directive (WFD). It last reported in 2016, with updated classifications due by late 2019, but yesterday DEFRA told ENDS it will not release the data until spring 2020.
In 2016, the assessments revealed that only 14% of the country’s water bodies were in good condition, against a legally binding target of 100% achieving ‘good’ status by 2015. An analysis by ENDS of river basin management plans revealed that the extended deadline of 2021 was also likely be missed.
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The following year the Environment Agency’s (EA) chief executive Sir James Bevan admitted to a House of Commons select committee that England will continue to miss the target as far out to 2027, with the majority of rivers failing to meet the standards, owing to pollution from agriculture, rural land management, the water sector and urban runoff.
Environmental NGOs have expressed frustration at the delay.
Rivers Trust chief executive Mark Lloyd said he was disappointed. “The ecological status of our rivers and lakes is vital not only for biodiversity, but also for human health and the economy. As such, it should be a high priority to report frequently and regularly on progress.”
Rhiannon Niven, senior water policy officer for the RPSB, shared Lloyd’s disappointment, saying the delay made it difficult for the NGO to “fully engage and provide the best informed response for the current Environment Agency Challenges and Choices consultation on river basin planning”.
Around 10,000 water body assessments are included in the WFD indicator each year.