45th Ecostat group meeting

Ecostat

The Water Framework Directive is a voluminous document that requires interpretation, so the European Commission has adopted a Common Implementation Strategy (CIS). The CIS has several working groups, consisting of representatives of WFD implementing countries and experts, including a group on the WFD. Ecological Status (Ecostat). For many years, the leading representative of our country has been a delegate of the Chief Environmental Inspectorate. He is accompanied by representatives of the National Water Board and the ministry responsible for water management. Non-governmental organizations, delegates of the European Environment Agency and experts invited for specific tasks also participate in the deliberations.

On March 30-31, the forty-fifth meeting of the Ecostat group was held in a hybrid format. The stationary part was hosted this time by the German Environmental Agency (UBA), based in Berlin.

The first substantive topic of the meeting was a presentation on the status of intercalibration of indicators for classifying biological water quality elements. Admittedly, the WFD stipulated 18 months for this process, but it still failed for some countries and indicators, and in turn, some indicators were modified by experience, which erased their intercalibration. The Commission’s next intercalibration decision, which will include the latest table of indicators and their limit values for very good and good ecological status, is scheduled for the end of this year.

The meeting also presented the status of the work of expert subgroups working on unifying the criteria for determining ecological status for physicochemical elements. Some of them can be found in published reports. Ecostat had already prepared similar guidelines for biogens several years earlier. It turns out that they have not been implemented in almost any country, which may be due to legislative inertia. In this regard, the exception is Poland, which implemented the new criteria in parallel with Ecostat’s work (in the 2019 regulation). Currently, the subgroup’s work is mainly focused on other physicochemical elements, especially acidification and salinity. In the latter case, European countries often lack criteria defining ecological status for this element.

This approach was exposed to particular criticism in the context of the presentation of the JRC and European Environment Agency (EEA) report on last year’s Oder environmental disaster. The report aroused keen interest among delegates from various countries, including those that have recently experienced toxic blooms of Prymnesium parvum but have not taken such extensive measures (Cyprus) or have stable populations of this alga in salt lakes for decades but do not experience toxic blooms (Croatia). It was noted that a certain problem in the pan-European analysis of the topic is the uneven reporting of environmental data to the WISE system run by the EEA. Some countries provide large amounts of data (e.g., Poland), while others limit themselves to a minimum (e.g., Germany).

The topic of physicochemical elements also came up in the context of the convergence of the WFD with other directives – the WFD and the WFD. Marine (RDSM) and nitrate (DA) strategies. The RDSM was partially modeled on the WFD, so convergence of good status criteria in the implementation of the two directives, especially at the interface between them (transitional and coastal waters), is desirable. It has already occurred in most countries. In the case of the DA, the situation is different. Its criteria were established earlier and do not coincide with the definition of ecological status, and transferring them to the WFD criteria is considered erroneous. There is some consternation among experts about the state of eutrophication reported by member countries. According to him, the problem is greatest in Finland, affecting 80% of surface water bodies, and the smallest (8%) in France. It is clear that it is hard to consider Finland’s waters as ten times more zeutrophic than France’s, and this difference is due to the criteria adopted, not the facts.

Other presentations included. litter monitoring, which is currently carried out only for marine waters, but is likely to be implemented in inland waters as well with the revision of the WFD.

They also discussed the concept of free rivers in the Nature Restoration Law. It is clear that its implementation should contribute to improving the ecological status of rivers and implementing the objectives of the WFD, despite the lack of a direct legal link.

The controversy was not aroused by the plans to revise the WFD and the directive-cell. There are things in them that are widely recognized as right, such as moving the topic of river basin-specific pollution from the physical and chemical elements of ecological status to the chemical elements. This will involve the creation of a central inventory of such substances and the establishment of common environmental quality standards for them. The revision plans had been under consultation for several months, so they were not new to Ecostat members.

The presentation of proposed changes to the reporting of monitoring results and water status classification was different. This obligation is related to the six-year cycle of water management plans, and such a time frame causes a significant lag between the assessment and its presentation. The Commission proposes to evaluate and report annually, even on the basis of incomplete monitoring results. The idea drew unanimous opposition from the delegates. It was pointed out that the WFD does not provide for monitoring of each element every year, so monitoring plans are spread over a six-year cycle. This could lead to a situation where in one year elements in poor condition are monitored, and the next year only elements in good condition are monitored, and the assessment would give the impression of improvement despite its actual absence.

The topic of reporting also appeared in another presentation based on data from the EEA’s WISE system. Despite the aforementioned shortcomings, some lessons have been learned. According to them, between the last water management cycles, there has been an improvement in the ecological status of the biological elements by an average of 0.1 standardized quality index (i.e. half a class), which is a desirable direction, but the rate of change does not forecast the achievement of environmental goals by 2027.

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