EU legislation on water quality
on Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control
This Directive was adopted by the
Council of Ministers in 1996 and has been introduced
as a harmonisation measure in response to the existence
of several national integrated pollution management
systems (such systems operate in the UK, Belgium,
Denmark, France and the Netherlands). The Directive
has been strongly influenced by the UK IPC system,
not least as it is the most recent and comprehensive
system of integrated pollution management. Whilst
IPC appears to be at least as comprehensive as IPPC,
there are a number of elements of IPPC that may
lead to the extension of IPC in the UK. These are
- Prescribed Processes and Substances
- Best Available Techniques (BAT)
- Implementation Timetable
In Scotland, the Scottish Environment
Protection Agency (SEPA), will be the regulator
for all installations.
In 1991, the Council of Ministers
adopted a Directive on the protection of waters
against pollution caused by nitrates from agricultural
sources (the Nitrates Directive).
The Directive aims to protect fresh,
coastal and marine waters against pollution caused
by nitrates from diffuse sources. It requires member
states to identify waters, either actually or potentially
affected by nitrate pollution. These are to include:
- surface waters, particularly those for the abstraction
of drinking water, where nitrate concentrations
exceed 50 mg/l nitrate;
- groundwaters actually or potentially containing
more than 50 mg/l nitrate;
- freshwater lakes, other freshwater bodies, estuaries,
coastal waters and marine waters which are, or
may in the future be, eutrophic.
Member states had to designate
all areas draining into such waters as vulnerable
zones by 19 December 1993 and establish Action
Programmes to control the timing and rate of application
of manure and chemical fertilisers in these zones.
The provisions of the Nitrates
Directive for the identification of vulnerable zones
were transcribed into UK legislation primarily under
the provisions of the Water Resources Act 1991 and
subsequent Regulations. 68 Nitrate Vulnerable Zones
(see Map 2) were identified in England and Wales
under the Protection of Water Against Agricultural
Nitrate Pollution Regulations 1996 and one, at Balmalcolm
in Fife, under similar regulations in Scotland.
Three Nitrate Vulnerable Zones have been designated
in Northern Ireland.
The provisions for Action Programmes
were implemented in UK legislation under the Action
Programme for Nitrate Vulnerable Zones Regulations
1998 which came into force on 19 December 1998.
These Regulations, which aim to reduce the leaching
of nitrate from farmland into ground and surface
waters, require farmers in Nitrate Vulnerable Zones
to control the timing and rate of applications of
nitrogen fertilisers and manures used on their land
and to keep supporting records.
Map - Nitrate
vulnerable zones in England and Wales
The European Commission is currently
pursuing legal action against the UK for non-compliance
of the Nitrates Directive. The UK has limited the
application of Nitrate Vulnerable Zones to drinking
water sources, whereas the Directive states that
the criteria should be applied to all surface and
ground waters. In order to address this shortcoming
in the application of the Directive, the UK has
extended monitoring to investigate such waters but
this will not be completed until 2000 (several years
after the Directive=s
deadline). Furthermore, no action plans have been
established for the Nitrate Vulnerable Zones in
Urban Waste Water
On 18 March 1991, EU Environment
Ministers adopted the Urban (formerly Municipal)
Waste Water Treatment Directive. The provisions
of the Directive have been transcribed into UK legislation
by the Urban Waste Water Treatment Regulations 1994
in England, Wales and Scotland. DETR and the Welsh
Office issued a guidance note (DETR 1997) providing
agreed interpretation of the Regulations between
the Environment Agency and the Water Service plcs
(the largest group of dischargers).
The main aim of the Directive is
to ensure that all signficant discharges of sewage
are treated before they are discharged, either to
inland surface waters, groundwaters, estuaries or
coastal waters. Significant discharges are defined,
for the purposes of the Directive, as those to fresh
waters or to estuaries serving agglomerations with
population equivalents (commonly abbreviated to
of more than 2,000 or those to coastal waters serving
agglomerations with population equivalents of more
than 10,000 (1 pe = the organic biodegradable load
having a five day biological oxygen demand (BOD5)
of 60 g per day). Sewage will normally be treated
to secondary treatment standards (see Box 1, page
50) (normally a biological process). Discharges
into areas identified as >sensitive= because of the risk of eutrophication will
require more stringent treatment which will usually
include the removal of nitrogen in coastal waters
and phosphorus in freshwaters. The timetable for
the implementation of these improvements in estuarine
and coastal waters is as follows:
- secondary treatment for discharges above 15,000
pe must be provided by 31 December 2000;
- discharges between 2,000 and 15,000 pe in estuaries
and between 10,000 and 15,000 pe in coastal waters
must receive secondary treatment by 2005;
- smaller discharges must receive appropriate
treatment by 2005.
The Directive and the UK Regulations
allowed for the designation of High Natural Dispersion
Areas (HNDAs) in coastal waters. In these areas,
only primary treatment of sewage is required. 85
HNDAs have been identified in the UK: 58 in England
and Wales, 24 in Scotland and 3 in Northern Ireland.
However, the Government has recently decided to
withdraw all HNDAs which will require all discharges
covered by UWWT Regulations to undergo secondary
treatment as a minimum. Any discharges affected
by this change of policy may be allowed longer to
comply with the secondary treatment requirements.
Five estuarine eutrophic >sensitive= areas have been identified in the UK and
these are all in England and Wales: Chichester Harbour,
Langstone Harbour, Truro, Tresillian and Fal estuaries,
Taw estuary and Tawe estuary. Where >sensitive
designations coincide with European marine sites,
the implications for the features of interest should
be considered. Designations are to be reviewed in
2001. In Northern Ireland, Inner Belfast Lough is
to be designated as a eutrophic >sensitive= area.
All qualifying discharges under
the Directive have specific conditions written into
the discharge consents specifying the appropriate
level of treatment.
The Directive also requires member
states to take action to limit pollution from storm
water overflows. This requires measures to be undertaken
to improve unsatisfactory intermittent discharges,
although no specific requirements are imposed, nor
is a timetable set.
The Directive also requires appropriate
treatment to be provided from smaller agglomerations
and effluents from industrial processes with characteristics
similar to sewage. The Directive also required the
ending of disposal of sewage sludge at sea on 31
The Shellfish Water Directive (adopted
in 1979) outlines the requirements for the quality
of designated waters which support shellfish (defined
as bivalve and gastropod molluscs) and aims to protect
these shellfish populations from the harmful consequences
resulting from the discharge of polluting substances
into the sea. This Directive has been transcribed
into UK legislation under the Surface Waters (Shellfish)
(Classification) Regulations 1997 and The Surface
Waters (Shellfish) Directions 1997.
In July 1999, DETR announced the
designation of 76 new shellfish waters and the extension
of the existing 17 designations. The total number
of protected areas in England is now 93 (see Map
3). There is one designated shellfish area in Wales
(although more are expected to be designated by
the National Assembly for Wales in the near future
- CEFAS, Weymouth pers. comm.), 11 in Scotland and
1 in Northern Ireland.
There are also plans to increase
the number of designated waters in Northern Ireland.
The competent authority for the implementation of
this Directive is the Environment Agency in England
and Wales, SEPA in Scotland and the Environment
and Heritage Service in Northern Ireland.
The Directive lays down Imperative
(I) values for certain parameters (see Section 5)
of water quality which must be attained in designated
waters. It also sets Guideline (G) values (Section 5)
which member states must >endeavour to observe= in establishing programmes for improvement
of designated waters. The Regulations set mandatory
minimum standards equal to the I values in the Directive.
In practice, it is intended that local operational
standards will be set (after 2001) which are at
least as stringent as the I values but take into
account current water quality such that no deterioration
is allowed. No deterioration in this context means
that water quality currently better than the proposed
I values will not be allowed to deteriorate, regardless
of the I values.
Shellfish waters are monitored
throughout the year ranging from monthly, quarterly,
six-monthly to annually, depending on the relevant
parameter. The parameters measured include physico-chemical
determinands and a range of toxic organic and metal
contaminants. Where shellfish waters are located
within or close to European marine sites, the results
of monitoring of shellfish waters provide an indication
of the concentration of some key physico-chemical
determinands and a range of toxic contaminants in
the water column and the degree of compliance with
standards designed to protect shellfish.
Map - Designated
shellfish waters in England and Wales
Map - Designated
shellfish waters in Scotland
The related Directive laying down
the health conditions for the production and the
placing on the market of live bivalve molluscs (Shellfish
Hygiene Directive) is aimed at ensuring shellfish
are fit for human consumption and involves monitoring
for faecal bacteria contamination. The Directive
does not impose any obligation to achieve or maintain
a particular standard, but classifies shellfish
harvesting areas according to the level of faecal
bacteria present in the shellfish. MAFF, SERAD in
Scotland and Department of Agriculture for Northern
Ireland (DANI) in Northern Ireland are the competent
authorities for the implementation of this Directive.
In 1976, the EU Council of Ministers
adopted the Dangerous Substances Directive to control
pollution caused by certain dangerous substances
discharged to the aquatic environment. The Directive
established two lists of compounds:
- List I dealing with substances regarded as being
particularly dangerous because of their toxicity,
persistence and bioaccumulation. Pollution by
List I substances must be eliminated; and
- List II containing substances which are less
dangerous but which nevertheless have a deleterious
effect on the aquatic environment. Pollution by
List II substances must be reduced.
For List I substances, the Directive
stipulates two approaches for control: uniform emission
standards (UESs) (also known as limit values) and
environmental quality standards (EQSs). Both types
of standard are set on a Community level but member
states are given discretion to select which approach
to adopt. Most EU member states prefer the UESs,
whereas the UK has adopted the EQS approach. For
List II substances, member states are required to
set environmental quality standards (EQSs) developed
on a national level.
EQSs for List I substances have
been established in a series of >daughter=
Directives (Table 2.3).
EQSs for List II substances have
been derived in the UK and implemented by the Surface
Waters (Dangerous Substances)(Classification) Regulations
1997 and 1998.
In 1980, the EU adopted the Groundwater
Directive (Protection of Groundwater Against Pollution
Caused by Certain Dangerous Substances - 80/68/EEC).
The substances to be controlled fall into two lists:
- List 1 substances are the most toxic and must
be prevented from entering groundwater. They include
pesticides, sheep dip, solvents, hydrocarbons,
mercury, cadmium and cyanide.
- List 2 substances are less dangerous but, if
disposed of in large amounts, could be harmful
to groundwater. They include some heavy metals
and ammonia (which is present in sewage effluent),
phosphorous and its compounds. Entry of these
substances into groundwater must be restricted
to prevent pollution.
Control is also required where
water is recharged to ground for later drinking
On 1 January 1999, Regulations
completing the implementation of the 1980 Directive
were introduced (EA has responsibility for the Groundwater
Regulations in England and Wales with SEPA exercising
similar responsibilities in Scotland). From the
above date, anyone who disposes of listed substances
(including materials which contain these substances)
onto or into land should apply for an authorisation
if they want to continue with that disposal. An
application made before 1 April 1999 will be deemed
granted until fully determined by the EA. Where
applications are made on or after 1 April 1999,
these will need to be considered by the Agency and
a formal authorisation issued before any disposal
can be made. Where disposal is acceptable, the EA
will authorise this with appropriate conditions.
In some cases, it will be necessary to refuse the
application because of the risks to groundwater.
This advice on authorisations under the Regulations
is subject to finalisation of DETR guidance on interpretation
of the Regulations. The reader should contact Sarah
Peaty (EA, 0191 203 4000) for further information.
Table - Dangerous
directives for List I substances
The requirement to comply with
EQSs in controlled waters governs the conditions
on discharge consents containing List I substances.
The Environment Agency undertakes monitoring of
controlled waters around discharges known to contain
these substances in order to demonstrate compliance
with the requirements of the Directive. An annual
summary of this information is submitted to DETR.
This Directive covers the quality
of bathing waters for protecting human health and
for reasons of amenity and seeks to ensure that
quality is raised over time largely by ensuring
sewage is not present or has been adequately diluted
or destroyed. Bathing waters are defined as "fresh
or sea water in which bathing is explicitly authorised
or is not prohibited and is traditionally practised
by a large number of bathers."
A total of 448 coastal and estuarine sites have
been designated as bathing waters in England and
Wales, 23 in Scotland and 16 in Northern Ireland.
The Scottish Executive is expected to designate
further bathing waters in Scotland before the start
of the 1999 bathing season (SEPA 1998). SEPA monitored
an additional 93 coastal and inland and as yet
undesignated bathing waters in 1998 (SEPA 1998).
The Directive lists 10 parameters:
total coliforms, faecal coliforms, salmonella, enteroviruses,
pH, colour, mineral oils, surface-active substances
reacting with methylene blue (essentially detergents),
phenols and water clarity for which there are mandatory
standards for all member states. The Directive also
gives guideline values for some of the parameters,
including the two coliform groups and faecal streptococci,
which are stricter than the mandatory values and
which member states should endeavour to observe.
The mandatory requirements of this Directive were
transcribed into UK legislation under the provisions
of the Water Resources Act 1991 (Section 2.2.1)
by the Bathing Waters (Classification) Regulations.
The UK Government bases compliance
with the Directive=s mandatory standards on the counts of total
coliforms and faecal coliforms (both parameters
must comply to achieve a pass) and with guideline
values on the counts of total coliforms, faecal
coliforms and faecal streptococci (all three parameters
must comply to achieve a pass). The competent authority
for the implementation of this Directive is the
Environment Agency in England and Wales, SEPA in
Scotland and the Environment and Heritage Service
in Northern Ireland.
Bathing waters are monitored regularly
during the bathing season (15 May to 30 September
in England and Wales and 1 June to mid-September
in Scotland and Northern Ireland) for a range of
microbiological and physico-chemical parameters.
Where bathing waters are located within or close
to European marine sites (see JNCC Coastal Directory
Series for locations of designated bathing waters),
the monitoring of bathing waters provides an indication
of the degree of pollution (principally from sewage).
However, sampling is limited to the bathing season
only and is located on the designated bathing beach
regardless of the position of outfalls. The results
of bathing water monitoring are published annually
by the Environment Agency in England and Wales (see
Environment Agency website at www.environment-agency.gov.uk),
SEPA in Scotland (SEPA 1998 and SEPA website at
sepa.org.uk) and the Environment and Heritage Service
in Northern Ireland.
The requirement to achieve compliance
with mandatory standards is one of the major pressures
leading to significant improvements in Secondary
Treatment Works (STW) discharges in the vicinity
of designated bathing waters. SEPA adopted a new
policy in 1998 on microbiological standards in marine
waters which aims to ensure that all new or modified
discharges are designed to achieve compliance with
guideline values of the Directive at identified
bathing waters in Scotland.
The European Commission adopted
a proposal for a Water Policy Framework Directive
(WFD) on 26 February 1997. The overall aim of the
Directive is to establish a framework for the protection
and management of surface waters, including estuaries,
coastal waters and groundwaters in the EU. The main
objectives of the proposed Directive are to:
- prevent further deterioration and to protect
and enhance the aquatic environment;
- achieve >good= water quality for all surface waters
and groundwaters unless it is impossible or prohibitively
- promote sustainable water management based on
long-term protection of water resources.
These objectives are to be achieved
by managing the water environment on the basis of
river basins by applying the combined approach of
limit values (LV) and environmental quality standards
(EQSs) to the control of discharges and by controlling
water abstractions from both surface and groundwaters.
The Directive will effectively provide the legal
basis for the management of Community waters. Whereas
previously adopted water-related Directives addressed
individual issues (e.g. the control of sewage effluents),
the WFD aims to provide an overall framework for
the management of water, both in terms of quality
and quantity, thus enabling an integrated approach
to be taken to achieve the objective of sustainable
water management. It aims to balance the needs of
water uses within a catchment, using command and
control measures, planning and economic instruments.
The Directive will, therefore,
have a fundamental impact on existing and proposed
legislation. It is likely to incorporate the requirements
of current use-related or quality-objective Directives
(e.g. the Freshwater Fish, Shellfish, Groundwater,
Surface Water, and also the proposed Ecological
Directive) and the quality standards laid down in
the Dangerous Substances Directive. However, the
Urban Waste Water Treatment (UWWT), Nitrates, Bathing
Water and the IPPC Directives will remain in force.
The proposed Directive will also provide the framework
for the integration into water policy of the measures
required under other Community legislation, such
as the Pesticides, Habitats, Birds (conservation)
and Seveso Directives. Many of the Directives will
provide some of the measures required to implement
the WFD (e.g. to control pollution from certain
Some of the key times for implementation
of parts of the proposed Directive are:
10 years to develop river basin
management plans by a river basin authority (likely
to be EA/SEPA) (coastal waters will be assigned
to the river basin district). These management plans
must register all Protected Areas (which includes
European marine sites) in the river basin district.
A further 6 years to achieve improvements
status with a possible extension for a further 18
surface water status"
means the status achieved by a surface water body
when both its ecological and chemical status are
at least "good".
ecological status" means the ecological status achieved
by a body of water which is demonstrated to be significantly
influenced by human activity, but which nevertheless
has a rich, balanced and sustainable ecosystem.
chemical status" means the chemical status achieved
by a body of water in which concentrations of the
substances from Annex VIII of the Directive do not
exceed the environmental quality standards established
in Annex X of the Directive and other relevant Community
legislation setting environmental quality standards
and in which the trends in the monitoring data do
not suggest that such environmental quality standards
will be exceeded in the future.
Surface waters are intended to
include 'transitional waters'
(a general term adopted for estuaries, coastal lagoons
etc) and coastal waters out to a limit of 1 nautical