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The Water Frameworks Directive provides legal structure to protect and restore clean water across Europe and ensure its long-term, sustainable use (DOE, 2015). This piece of legislation integrates agriculture, industry, and spatial planning, and impacts on, while also being impacted by, many other existing pieces of legislation.

Adopted by the EU in 2000, the Water Frameworks Directive was the result of ongoing investigation into water quality, which began in the 1970’s and 1980’s  (culminating in quality objective legislation on fish waters, shellfish waters, bathing waters and groundwaters) and increasing demands for cleaner water from citizens and environmental organisations. Despite the European Water Policy undergoing a thorough restructuring process in the last 30 years, and the adoption of the newer, more focused Water Framework Directive, concern over water quality is still very much evident  among communities, scientific and environmental organisations.

In 2012 for example, 25,524 European citizens aged 15 and above were interviewed by telephone , at the request of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for the Environment to gauge public opinion on issues relating to water conservation and to establish whether awareness of water issues had improved over time (WWW1).


Level of information about problems facing groundwater, lakes, rivers, and coastal waters (WWW2 p.6)

The results of this survey showed that ‘75% of Europeans consider that the EU should propose additional measures to address water problems in Europe with the main focus of such measures on water pollution from industry and agriculture’ (WWW2). 67% of participants felt that they were not well informed on issues affecting water quality and that greater emphasis on dissemination of relevant information was one of the best solutions to tackle this environmental issue collaboratively.

European Commission Flash Eurobarometer

Tackling Water Problems (WWW2 p.17)

The Water Frameworks Directive is unique in that it establishes a framework for the protection of all waters and their dependent wildlife/habitats under one piece of environmental legislation (WWW3). The Water Frameworks Directive aims to :

  • protect/enhance all waters (surface, ground and coastal waters)
  • achieve “good status” for all waters by December 2015
  • manage water bodies based on river basins (or catchments)
  • involve the public
  • streamline legislation

The Birds, Habitats, and Nitrates Directives, along with regulations on drinking water, bathing waters, and urban waste are all key factors within the Water Frameworks Directive, as well as the Marine Strategy Frameworks Directive. A major requirement of Member States within the Water Frameworks Directive is the preparation of River Basin Management Plans, comprised of three, five year planning cycles. Ireland is currently within the second of these planning cycles.

  • 1st Cycle River Basin Management Plans: 2009-2014
  • 2nd Cycle River Basin Management Plans: 2015-2021
2nd Cycle RBDs-450x635

River basin districts of second cycle of WFD (2015 – 2021) (WWW4)


These plans are laid out with the goal of achieving Good Ecological Status of all waters. Ireland will begin its second cycle in 2017, but is currently 2 years behind schedule and so the next cycle will last 4 years rather than 5. Mr. Simon Coveney T.D. Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government has also called for submissions, observations and comments on the current draft plan for 2018 – 2021.

At the time of writing (March 2016), 63% of Irish coastal waters (1 nautical mile from land (European Comission, 2003)) are deemed to be in “High” ecological status, with the majority of riverine and transitional waters being in a “Moderate” status. Additionally, 73% of Irish rivers have been classified as “unpolluted” as of the last cycle, which is comparatively better than that of most other European countries. Efficient implementation of this framework, combined with the Marine Strategy Frameworks Directive, could greatly help with the conservation of the coastal marine environment.

Seán  and  Orla-Peach



WWW1 – Eurobarometer Overview

WWW2 – Flash Eurobarometer Report

WWW3 – Water Frameworks Directive Ireland

WWW4 – River Basin Management Cycles