The Water Framework Directive

WFD logoThe Water Framework Directive, (Directive 2000/60/EC), or WFD for short, is the most substantial piece of water legislation ever produced by the European Commission, and will provide the major driver for achieving sustainable management of water in the  EU Member States for many years to come. It requires that all inland and coastal waters within defined river basin districts must reach at least good status by 2015 and defines how this should be achieved through the establishment of environmental objectives and ecological targets for surface waters. The result will be a healthy water environment achieved by taking due account of environmental, economic and social considerations.

There have been significant achievements over the past decade or so in improving the quality of surface waters (lakes, rivers, estuaries and coastal waters) and groundwaters in the EU Member States. However, during the 1990s it was recognised by the European Commission that there was a need to find a better way of managing the water environment.

There was concern that existing Directives governing the management of the water environment were rather fragmented. They addressed specific issues of importance but, in particular, did not give due priority to the protection of groundwater and aquatic ecosystems. In addition, a more comprehensive approach to water policy was required which encompassed:

  • A high level of environmental protection, leading to a clean and healthy water environment.
  • The ‘precautionary principle’ and the ‘polluter pays’ principle.
  • Taking preventative action against pollution and controlling pollution at source.
  • Taking account of the costs and benefits involved within a fair water pricing policy.
  • Ensuring that wide and active consultation takes place during the development of water management plans.
  • The need for international collaboration for certain river basins.

In summary, the Directive requires that all surface waters and groundwaters within defined river basin districts must reach at least ‘good’ status by 2015. It will do this for each river basin district by:

  • Defining what is meant by ‘good’ status by setting environmental quality objectives for surface waters and groundwaters.
  • Identifying in detail the characteristics of the river basin district, including the environmental impact of human activity.
  • Assessing the present water quality in the river basin district.
  • Undertaking an analysis of the significant water quality management issues.
  • Identifying the pollution control measures required to achieve the environmental objectives.
  • Consulting with interested parties about the pollution control measures, the costs involved and the benefits arising.
  • Implementing the agreed control measures, monitoring the improvements in water quality and reviewing progress and revising water management plans to achieve the quality objectives.
The established timetable for its implementation in the EU Member States is as follows:
  • 2000: WFD comes into force.
  • 2001: Common Implementation Strategy published.
  • 2003: Transposition into national legislation and designation of river basin districts and competent authorities.
  • 2004: For each river basin, an analysis of the natural characteristics, pressures and human impacts, an economic analysis of water use and a register of areas needing special protection has to be done.
  • 2006: Operational water monitoring programmes.
  • 2008: Public consultation on proposed river basin management plans.
  • 2009: River basin management plans with programmes of measures have to be finalised.
  • 2009-15: Implementation of programmes of measures.
  • 2010: Water pricing policies in place to promote sustainable use of water.
  • 2015: Achievement of good status for all surface waters and ground waters.

For more information on the  Water Framework Directive visit:

The original text of the Directive and its amending acts can be found here: