European Law Determines Next Decades of Water Management

Dec. 28, 2000

European Union leaders have completed the largest piece of water legislation ever to set standards for water quality and water resources management in 15 member nations over the next few decades.

The new law comes after three years of debate by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, centered mainly around the degree of control the directive should have over the member states' efforts to achieve "good water status."

Under the directive, member states will only have to "aim" to achieve good water status, but some subsidiary phrases say they "shall" protect different kinds of waters, prevent water quality deterioration and enhance water bodies. A range of new standards for water quality and resource management will now take effect in 2015, one year earlier than agreed by the Council, and not 2010 as proposed by the Parliament.

Meanwhile, environmental groups argue that Parliament did not overturn clauses that the groups claim will weaken groundwater protection resources when the new law takes over the current groundwater law in 13 years. The directive will allow groundwater to be classed as "good quality" even if it is "so polluted that drinking it could be lethal," the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) said Friday.

The EEB described the final text of the directive as a "disaster for the environment, embarrassing for environment ministers, the environment commissioner and the Parliament and a blow to the [environmental] credentials of the EU."

However, EU environment commissioner Margot Wallstrom called the agreement a "major breakthrough" for European water policy. The directive would have important implications for water quality both in the short term and for future generations, the commissioner's spokesperson said Friday.

(Source: Environment News Service)