17 January 2017 | Reading 7 mins.

Governance of Europe’s waters

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Peter Easton
Senior Advisor Water and Sustainability

Peter Easton, Senior Advisor Water and Sustainability

The European Water Framework Directive is a successful – although imperfect – model for international management and the protection of water supplies and natural water environments.

The Water Framework Directive (WFD) is one of the most advanced and comprehensive examples of environmental legislation from the European Union (EU). Its stated purpose is: “to establish a framework for the protection of inland surface waters, transitional waters, coastal waters and groundwater”. The primary objectives are to improve water quality and to protect water quality and availability across Europe. This has many additional benefits because of water’s critical role in the natural environment, for species protection, provision of safe and sufficient drinking water, economic development and for food production.

The publication of the WFD in 2000 was influenced by the increasing internationalization and complexity of water resources management and by a growing concern for environmental protection. The WFD represents a third wave in EU water policy development. The first wave, from the mid-1970s, was legislation to define drinking water standards and the need to protect water sources from pollution. The second wave, from the early 1990s, included increased controls on polluting emissions and activities (such as the Urban Wastewater and Nitrates directives). The WFD creates a more integrated approach from both a physical and governance perspective, as encompassed in the river basin model.

The most important characteristic of the WFD is that it establishes a governance structure for international and multi- stakeholder cooperation on the protection and sustainable use of water resources. As such, it provides a working example for other multinational regions of the world.

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