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The European Commission tells countries to step up water protection

The European Commission has told EU member states that it will not shy away from taking legal action if they do not step up implementation of water protection measures.

The EU executive will “pursue infringement cases in priority areas” where member states fall short of their objectives under the EU’s Water Framework Directive (WFD), a progress report stated on 9th of March. It assessed the member states’ programs of measures under the directive and their preliminary flood risk assessments.

Many countries outlined measures, such as controls on water abstraction and diffuse pollution, which are already in place rather than looking at what is required to reach the objective of a good ecological status of water bodies by 2015, the report found.

This has lead to a widespread use of poorly justified exemptions, which is “clearly not sufficient” to reach the environmental objectives, the report added. Many member states are also relying on voluntary measures to tackle water pollution from agriculture, the main source of diffuse pollution, the Commission said.

And over-abstraction of water as a result of irrigation in Mediterranean and Black Sea countries continues to affect many water bodies, it warned.

The Commission urged member states to make full use of EU funding available to support the objectives of the WFD and to correct inadequate pricing of water resources, especially in the agricultural sector.

It argued that cost recovery “potentially applies to a wide range of water services”, requiring member states to clearly explain why they choose not to apply the principle to a specific water use activity.

Industry association EurEau said that member states need to strengthen their basic measures to tackle pollution with a preference for a “source control approach over end-of-pipe treatment”.

Environmental groups welcomed the report as a timely reminder to member states, which are currently in the process of finalizing their second river basin management and first flood risk plans.

“Gaps in implementation and inadequate pricing for water resources are rightly identified as serious issues,” said Martina Mlinaric of WWF.

The Commission should also do better at “making sure that member states honor their commitments” under the WFD, added Leonardo Mazza of EEB.


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Issue 40