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A new direction

There is a lot to do to ensure the Water Framework Directive is implemented by the deadline of 2015.

It may seem as if there is plenty of time to implement the European Water Framework Directive (WFD), as every EU country has until 2015 to comply. But time is actually quite tight when the whole philosophy behind water supply and management is to be radically transformed.

By the end of this year - three years after it came into effect - the directive must be part of national law. The Scottish Parliament recently passed primary legislation to enable it to meet this timescale. Secondary legislation will still be needed further into the implementation process for specific areas such as abstraction, engineering works in the vicinity of water courses, and diffuse pollution. The Scottish Executive will start consultation on those issues in the autumn.

When it comes to England and Wales, DEFRA says most of the directive's requirements are already enshrined in legislation, and the rest can be done through regulations that do not require an Act of Parliament. A consultation document on the draft of those regulations is due out this summer, giving interested parties a chance to comment before the final proposals are laid before Parliament at the end of the year.

Consultation is a key issue for those with a vested interest in the way the directive is implemented.

The Scottish Executive has set up a national stakeholder forum, made up of representatives of industry, environmental organisations, landowners and the public, to help shape the new regulations, but campaigners are concerned they might be shut out in England and Wales.

Rob Oates, UK natural rivers programme co-ordinator for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), says: fiI suspect the government is consulting with industry, but we should be consulted too because of the impact the directive will have on the public. fl WWF is part of the non governmental Link group, which includes the UK's leading countryside and environmental organisations. Between them, says Oates, they represent 5M of the public through membership alone.

The Link NGO group has offered to assist DEFRA and the Environment Agency by contributing to a full scale pilot that tests all elements of the directive.

So far, though, its lobbying has succeeded only in government agreement to trial the public participation aspects of the directive through its Ribble river pilot (see feature).

Oates says the environmental community's concern stems from a desire to see the directive implemented as successfully as possible: 'Our view is that the WFD is the best opportunity ever for UK Plc to address the collective mistakes of the past and restore our rivers and catchments and to put back some natural functionality.' He anticipates a reversal in the trend to build major flood defence structures and instead restore wetland areas that act naturally to help manage floods, improve water quality and naturally filter pollution out of river waters. 'The directive gives us the tools to address these issues for the first time in a very long time,' he says.

Before that stage is reached, however, a river management plan must be drawn up for every river basin area in the UK. Dr David Owen, who runs water and waste management consultancy Envisager, says the industry is going through a period of ficrystal ball gazingfl while it tries to second guess what those plans might entail. In the meantime, though, consultants must widen their skill bases.

'One of the great opportunities in the new directive is in the environmental biology side, where we're not very strong, ' he explains.

'We have skills in assessing traditional chemical and biological parameters, but the directive calls for a list of what creatures are living in the water and if they are the appropriate creatures for that type of water or an indicator of a disturbed habitat.

'That side is going to have to gear up on the consultancy front, and if we can do that there is a lot of good business to be done by British companies - especially on the management side and in delivering capital works at low cost. ' He also believes the directive will mean a far higher volume of work for those involved in remote monitoring and sensing of water quality, and feels consultancies should be building up their capability in these areas.

UK water spending is still governed by the AMP spending periods. Owen anticipates that few water companies will start preparing plans to comply with the directive before the current AMP period is complete in 2005 and they have started planning for the next. However, he says, 'as consultants we should be making a judgement about what's out there and building up our capability to address that market.'

INFOPLUS Dr David Owen will be speaking at the NCE conference on the Water Framework Directive at the Cavendish Conference Centre in London on 26 June (see box).

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