Water Framework Directive

The WFD was created in December 2000 and implemented in 2003 with the aim of improving the quality of our water environment. Its purpose is also to integrate existing European directives into the new legislation. The directive requires each Member State to implement changes to the management of water bodies, taking account of all aspects of the Water Cycle. The principal objective of the directive is to achieve good status in all waters by December 2015 and to ensure that status does not deteriorate in any waters. See more on catchments.ie.

River Basin Management Plan

A River Basin Management Plan is made every six years. The objectives of the WFD are implemented for each region of the country and require that the water environment is managed on natural river basins (or catchments). The river basin is an area of land from which all water makes its way to the sea through rivers, lakes, tributaries and underground routes. In Ireland , there are over 400 river basins which are grouped into a total of eight River Basin Districts:

  1. Shannon International River Basin District
  2. South East River Basin District
  3. South West River Basin District
  4. Eastern River Basin District
  5. Western River Basin District
  6. North Western International River Basin District
  7. Neagh Bann International River Basin District
  8. North Eastern River Basin District

All districts must adhere to regulations that include both water quality and the economic use of the water in the river basin district. The plan must incorporate input from the industrial and agricultural sectors, the community and non-governmental organisations.

Initial River Basin Management Plans were completed by the end of 2009. The current plans run from 2009-2014. The plans summarise the waterbodies that may not meet the environmental objectives of the WFD by December 2015 and identify which pressures are contributing to the environmental objectives not being achieved. More information can be found on the EPA's website here.

The Nitrates Directive

Several other EU Directives dealing with water quality are in force, such as the Nitrates Directive. The Nitrates Directive aims to reduce and prevent water pollution caused by nitrates from agricultural sources, with the primary emphasis on the management of livestock manures and other fertilisers. The main provisions of this directive are:

  1. To monitor and identify polluted waters or water liable to pollution from agricultural nitrates
  2. To promote the code of good agricultural practice to farmers
  3. To identify areas where a remediation programme should be applied
  4. To protect waters from pollution by nitrates from agricultural sources
  5. To develop/implement action programmes to reduce and prevent pollution
  6. To implement/update programmes on a four-year cycle  

The latest nitrates report (issued every four years) can be found here.

What is Protected?

Under the WFD the bodies of water that need to be protected are:

  • All surface waters (lakes, rivers, canals, reservoirs)

  • Groundwater

  • Estuarine waters (or Transitional waters)

  • Coastal waters (up to 12 nautical miles from our shores)

All wildlife and habitats associated with the water environment must also be protected through extensive monitoring and investigation. The Habitats Directive provides the framework for legal protection of habitats and species of European importance. This protects these habitats and species through an EU-wide network of conservation. This is better known as the Natura 2000 network, consisting of SACs (Special Areas of Conservation), SPAs (Special Protection Areas) and sites that are being considered as one of the above.

River Basin Management Plans must also be subjected to a Strategic Environmental Assessment to ensure that all measures undertaken are acceptable on a broader environmental level.


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