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Project part-financed by the European Union (European Regional Development Fund)

The Interreg IVB North Sea Region Programme


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Legislative Drivers & Sectoral Plan Review of TIDE Estuaries

2b. Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC)

In October 2000 the ‘Directive 2000/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2000 establishing a framework for Community action in the field of water policy’ (Water Framework Directive or WFD) was adopted and came into force in December 2000. The overriding goal of the Directive is that Member States should aim to achieve “Good Chemical and Good Ecological Status" or in case of Heavily Modified Water bodies (HMWB) “Good Chemical Status” and "Good Ecological Potential" of inland surface waters (rivers and lakes), transitional waters (estuaries), coastal waters and groundwater and also to prevent deterioration in the status of those water bodies by 2015.

Water in rivers, estuaries (transitional waters), coasts and aquifers will improve under measures set out in Programs of Measures for the River Basins, drawn up for river basin districts. The WFD considers the ecological health of surface water bodies (defined as a slight variation from undisturbed natural conditions), as well as achieving traditional chemical standards. In particular it will help to deal with diffuse pollution which remains important after improvements to most point source discharges. Successful implementation of the WFD will help to protect all elements of the water cycle and enhance the quality of groundwaters, rivers, lakes, estuaries and seas.

The WFD has been transposed into national law for the four estuaries by:
TIDE Estuary National/Federal Implementation
Humber (England) The Water Environment (Water Framework Directive) (England and Wales) Regulations 2003
Elbe & Weser (Germany) Federal Water Act (Wasserhaushaltsgesetz (BGBl. I S. 2585)) from 31 Juli 2009, last amendment December 2011. 
Bund-Länderarbeitsgemeinschaft Wasser (LAWA) has developed national guidelines on the WFD to support and to some extent harmonise the activities of the individual federal states.
Scheldt (The Netherlands) Implementation Strategy EG Water Framework Directive, thereby altering the Waterwet; Water Act
Scheldt (Belgium) Decreet Integraal Waterbeleid; Decree Integrated Water Policy


The operational implementation of the Water Framework Directive within each of the four TIDE estuaries is shown on four schematic frameworks detailing how the directive has been implemented from a top-down basis (Appendix 2a-e).

At a national level, all the countries have transposed the WFD into national, federal or regional legislation. Working groups have been formed at a national or regional level to provide coordinated advice for technical aspects of the directive and its implementation within each Member State. This is through the LAWA in Germany and UKTAG in the UK. A Scheldt treaty has been concluded between France, Belgium and the Netherlands regarding the protection of the water quality and the implementation of the WFD. The International Scheldt Commission has taken on the role of implementing the WFD which is based in Antwerp.

International long-standing working groups at the European level serve as an instrument for harmonising the implementation process between the member states. For example the Geographic Intercalibration Group for the North East Atlantic (NEA GIG) aims at a harmonised assessment of coastal and transitional waters within UK, Belgian, Dutch and German North Sea coasts.

For the four TIDE estuaries:
  • the Elbe has both an international River Basin Management Plan (RBMP) involving cooperation from Germany (10 Federal States), Poland, Czech Republic and Austria, and a national RBMP including a national (German) programme of measures for the Elbe Estuary. Hydromorphological changes, nutrients and pollution have been identified as having significant impacts within the Elbe RBMP.
  • the national RBMP for the Weser has been based on the RBMPs of the seven federal states in the catchment area with salt loading, pollution from nutrient inputs and impairment of water structures identified as the priority significant impacts to the estuary.
  • the Humber RBMP has identified diffuse and point source pollution and physical modification of water bodies as the key pressures in the RBP.
  • the international River Basin Management Plan has been based on the Dutch national River Basin Plan and a Flemish River Catchment Management Plan. In the Scheldt estuary, 9 out of the 11 water bodies are classified as heavily modified with only the Flemish water body ‘Zwin’ and the Dutch water body ‘Zeewse kust (kustwater)’ belong to the natural waters (Anon, 2010¹). The Scheldt RBMPs have identified diffuse and point source pollution and physical modification of water bodies as the key pressures in the RBP.
¹ Anon. 2010. Surface water quality. Indicators for the Scheldt estuary. Commissioned by the Maritime Access Division, project group EcoWaMorSe, Flemish-Dutch Scheldt Commission. VLIZ Information Sheets, 222. Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ): Oostende. 10 pp.

UK - Humber

The Humber has been designated a Heavily Modified Water Body (HMWB) under the directive. Although working groups have been established to help guide the implementation of the plans within all the estuaries, there are differences in who has taken the lead role in implementing the directive at the estuary level. Within the Humber, the Environment Agency as the lead Competent Authority has been working closely with two groups. The first is a liaison panel made up of a variety of groups all with key roles to play in implementing the plan. The second is a separate local stakeholder working group with which the Environment Agency is working with to ensure that all the main pressures on the water environment are addressed. All views from these two groups have been considered in writing the Humber River Basin Management Plan (HRBMP) by the Environment Agency.

Germany – Elbe & Weser

In the Elbe Estuary, a KorTel (Coordination Group Tidal River Elbe) comprising the three federal German states Lower Saxony, Hamburg, Schleswig-Holstein with responsibility in the Elbe Estuary together with the Federal waterways administration and Hamburg Port Authority all have joint responsibility for implementing the National RBMP at the tidal river Elbe level. The KorTel has a Tidal River Elbe Working Group (AG TES) consisting of all relevant stakeholders. The AG TES gathered a list of proposals for non-legally binding measures for the Elbe estuary in 2008 and will be involved in the future as well.

The Weser estuary has two bodies with responsibility for implementing the national Weser RBMP; these are the Lower Saxony Water Management, Coastal Defence and Nature Conservation Agency (NLWKN) and the Senator for Environment and City Development – Free Hanseatic City of Bremen (SUBV). NLWKN and SUBV work closely with Regional Cooperation Groups (stakeholder groups) which should take part in the decision making and implementation process in terms of the WFD and also with the Advisory Committee of Lower Saxony and Bremen. In contrast to the situation at the Elbe, the Regional Cooperation Groups operate on the level of sub-basin survey areas (Bearbeitungsgebiete). Similar to the Elbe, the stakeholder groups at the Weser proposed non-legally binding measures for the respective sub-basin survey area being suitable to reach WFD aims.

The Netherlands & Flanders – Scheldt

In 2002, the Treaty of Ghent between France, the Netherlands, the Flemish Region, the Walloon Region, the Brussels Capital Region and the Kingdom of Belgium reinforced the cooperation between the partners on the implementation of WFD in order to draw up a management plan for the Scheldt district. This treaty fixes the borders of the international district which formed the basis of the WFD management plan. The International Scheldt Commission (ISC), where the international coordination takes place, replaces the International Commission for the Protection of the Scheldt (ICPS) set up in 1994. There is no specific organisation or management plan at the estuary level.

In The Netherlands, at the national level, expert working groups for specific topics (e.g. monitoring, groundwater) have been established with participation from all concerned ministries, provinces and waterboards. They transpose the contents of the WFD and guidance documents for the Netherlands. The work is overseen by a national working group at civil servant level and a political ‘steering group’. The whole implementation process is coordinated and facilitated by a project team under the lead of Directorate General for Water in Den Haag (WSM, 2003) .

The Coordination Committee on Integrated Water Policy (CIW) is responsible for the coordination of the integrated water policy at the level of the Flemish Region. Flanders is divided in 11 sub-basins, which all have a common consultative and organisational structure, consisting of the basin management (political consultation between the Flemish Region, the provinces and the municipalities), the basin secretary (technical-official) and the basin council (social consultation with the stakeholders).


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