Water Framework Directive

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Picture of the homepage of www.catchments.ie website

www.catchments.ie supports the on-going work to protect and improve our natural water environment from a water quality perspective. It is a shared resource that has been developed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department and the Local Authority Waters and Communities Office (LAWCO). It allows for public access to information on rivers, lakes and coastal waters that has been gathered by the EPA and other bodies.

The website contains guidance, maps, data, resources, case studies and water related news from around Ireland. It demonstrates the joined-up governance approach now in place for the implementation of the Water Framework Directive in Ireland. You can also sign up for a quarterly Catchments Newsletter and for updates about relevant events in your county.

What is the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD)?

The EU Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC) requires all Member States to protect and improve water quality in all waters so that we achieve good ecological status by 2015 or, at the latest, by 2027.  It was given legal effect in Ireland by the European Communities (Water Policy) Regulations 2003 (S.I. No. 722 of 2003). It applies to rivers, lakes, groundwater, and transitional coastal waters. The Directive requires that management plans be prepared on a river basin basis and specifies a structured method for developing these plans.

What are River Basin Management Plans (RBMP’s)?

River Basin Management Plans (RBMPs) are plans to protect and improve Ireland’s water environment.  They are prepared and reviewed every six years. The first RBMPs covered the period 2010 to 2015. We are now in the process of developing plans for the period 2015-2021.

Who is responsible for implementing RBMP’s?

Following reviews of the first round of plans, the Government has established a new structure and assigned responsibility for various tasks in developing and carrying out the next cycle of  RBMP’s. The new structure was given legal effect by the European Union (Water Policy) Regulations 2014 S.I. 350 of 2014 and is designed around three inter-locking tiers.

The new governance structure is summarised in the table below:

Governance Structure under the Water Framework Directive

Tier 1 – The minister, supported by a Water Policy Advisory Committee has responsibility for WFD policy, legislation and ensuring the provision of adequate resources for implementing the Water Framework Directive.  The minister will also finalise the second RBMPs.

Water Policy Advisory Committee (WPAC) - Membership of the committee consists of:

  • Department of Housing, Planning, Community & Local Government (DHPCLG) (CHAIR)
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • Office of Public Works (OPW)
  • Geological Survey Ireland (GSI)
  • Commission for Energy Regulation (CER)
  • Department of Agriculture, Food & the Marine (DFAM)
  • Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (DAHRRG)
  • Department of Health
  • County and City Management Association (CCMA)
  • Health Service Executive (HSE)
  • Irish Water (IW)
  • Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI)

This committee meets four times a year and summarised minutes of the meetings are available below:

It is at this level also that the RBPBs, including the programme of measures, will be refined and finalised in consultation with other key departments and state agencies before been presented to the minister for finalisation.

Tier 2 - The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) has significant new responsibilities including drafting environmental objectives, undertaking catchment characterisation, preparing template RBMPs and compiling common programme of measures.

Tier 3 - Local authorities, led by the newly established Local Authorities Water and Communities Office (LAWCO) will have the role of carrying out and enforcing these measures on the ground. They will also have key responsibility for ensuring effective public participation, including consultation on draft river basin management plans.

North South Working Group on Water Quality (NSWGWQ)

A North South Working Group on Water Quality (NSWGWQ), comprising of officials from the North and South of Ireland co-operates on a range of initiatives in relation to Water Quality.  There was a high degree of co-ordination between the relevant authorities in developing the first cycle RBMPs and there will continue to be a requirement for co-ordination for the implementation of the second cycle plans.  The new Local Authority Water and Communities Office (LAWCO) will also liaise, collaborate and work with NI authorities on cross border water bodies and support cross border forums as required. The NSWGWQ will continue to report progress at the North South Ministerial Council Environment sectorial format meetings.

Progress to date –

Timetable and Work Programme for the Development of the Second Cycle River Basin Management Plans

In July 2014, we published a consultation document on the Timetable and Work Programme for the Development of the Second Cycle River Basin Management Plans.  This document outlined the new governance structure for the second round of RBMPs, a new approach to river basin management planning in Ireland and included a schedule of next steps in the process.  This document also explained that preparation of updated RBMPs had been delayed due to significant reform in the water sector in recent years and that the new plans would be delivered by the end of 2017.

Significant Water Management Issues (SWMI)

One of the key milestones in designing the second cycle of the plans is the identification of the Significant Water Management Issues in Ireland (SWMI).  In June 2015, we published the Significant Water Management Issues in Ireland public consultation document. This document provided an overview of the status of our waters and outlined the challenges ahead.

We asked for feedback to confirm that the appropriate issues and key challenges had been identified and we asked for suggestions on how to resolve these issues between now and 2021. All of the submissions recieved were considered by WPAC and by the Programme of Measures Working Group. A response document has been prepared by the Department and is available on the Public Consultation on the Significant Water Management Issues in Ireland page.

The Second Cycle of River Basin Management Plans (RBMPs)

The second cycle of RBMP's are currently being developed and a public consultation on the draft plans is scheduled for December 2016.