B4.4.1 Water Framework Directive (WFD)


The WFD came into force on 22 December 2000, and was put into UK law (transposed) in 2003. It is considered to be the most substantial piece of EC water legislation to date. The WFD has replaced several different pieces of water legislation:

Replaced by the end of 2007:

  • Surface Water Abstraction Directive – 75/440/EEC
  • Exchange of Information on Surface Water Decision – 77/795/EEC
  • Surface Water Abstraction Measurement / Analysis Directive – 79/869/EEC


Replaced by the end of 2013:

  • Freshwater Fish Directive – 78/659/EEC
  • Shellfish Waters Directive – 79/923/EEC
  • Groundwater Directive – 80/68/EEC
  • Dangerous Substances Directive – 76/464/EEC


The aims of the WFD are to:

  • Enhance the status (and prevent further deterioration) of aquatic ecosystems and associated wetlands.
  • Promote the sustainable use of water.
  • Reduce pollution of water, especially by ‘priority’ and ‘priority hazardous’ substances.
  • Reduce groundwater pollution.


The European Commission state that the WFD will result in a healthy water environment achieved by taking due account of environmental, economic and social considerations. In addition, compliance with the Directive will help prevent further deterioration in the quality of inland and coastal waters and will promote sustainable water consumption.

The WFD requires that all inland and coastal waters within defined river basin districts must reach at least good status by 2015. This includes both surface waters, such as rivers, lakes and coastal waters, and groundwater, that is all water below the surface of the ground in the saturation zone and in direct contact with the ground or subsoil. The WFD defines how this should be achieved through the establishment of environmental objectives and ecological targets for surface. The WFD requires that for each river basin district, the relevant competent authority:

  • Defines what is meant by ‘good’ status by setting environmental quality objectives for surface water and groundwater.
  • Identifies in detail the characteristics of the river basin district, including the environmental impact of human activity.
  • Assesses the present water quality in the river basin district.
  • Undertakes an analysis of the significant water quality management issues.
  • Identifies the pollution control measures required to achieve the environmental objectives.


An important feature of the Directive is that it encourages active public consultation and involvement in the decision-making process. Interested parties must be consulted about the pollution control measures, the costs involved and the benefits arising.