Common Implementation Strategy for the Water Framework Directive – River basin management in a changing climate

A Water and Marine Sustainability Month Feature Article

Vlatava River in Praha CZ - Original Image

[tweetmeme: A recent technical report, highlighted as part of our Water and Marine Sustainability Month series of articles, focuses on sustainable river management and water security through the implementation of the Water Framework Directive.  The introduction to this publication reads:

European freshwaters, transitional and marine waters are already being affected by many human activities, e.g. due to land-use, water abstraction and pollution with nutrients and hazardous substances. There are many indications that water resources, which are already under stress from human activities, are highly susceptible to climate change impacts and that climate change may hinder attempts to prevent deterioration and/or restore some water bodies to good status. Climate change is projected to lead to major changes in yearly and seasonal water availability across Europe in the long run, and an increase in extreme river flows is projected for large parts of Europe.

However, on the basis of current knowledge, it is unlikely that within the timeframe of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) implementation (i.e. up to 2027), the effects of a climate change signal will be adequately distinguishable from other human pressures and natural variability to the extent that extensive changes in status become necessary. Only in relatively few particularly sensitive cases, is it likely that climate change could impact status assessment in the relatively short term. It is more likely that first climate change related effects on water status are to be expected from adding to the burden of existing anthropogenic pressures on water bodies, such as increased water abstraction because of higher summer temperatures, or increasing diffuse pollution due to increasing rainfall intensities.

The present Guidance Document focuses on how climate change could be integrated into the 2nd and 3rd river basin management (RBM) cycles of the WFD also broadening the scope to floods and droughts. This EU Guidance was identified as a priority action by the White Paper of the European Commission on “Adapting to climate change: Towards a European framework for action”.

Across Member States, consideration of climate change has been introduced to river basin management processes in a largely qualitative way, if at all, for the 1st RBM cycle for the WFD. In some cases, adaptation has tended to be considered towards the end of the river basin management process. For the 1st cycle, the Policy Paper of the Water Directors placed particular emphasis on ensuring that the Programmes of Measures are sufficiently adaptive to future climate conditions (so-called climate-check of the Programme of Measures, based on available knowledge, data and common sense).

For the 2nd and 3rd RBM cycles for the WFD, it is expected that climate change should be fully integrated into the process of river basin management. As such the pillars of the approach to adaptation through river basin management under the WFD should be 1) effective long term monitoring (to enable climate change signals to be identified and reacted to in due course), 2) the assessment of the likely additional impact of climate change on existing anthropogenic pressures, and 3) the incorporation of this information into the design of measures (particularly for proposed measures with a long term design life). Thus, it is expected that as a minimum, Member States should clearly demonstrate how climate change projections have been considered in the pressures & impacts assessment, in the monitoring programmes, and in the choice of measures.

Regarding the Floods Directive, climate change should be considered in the first flood risk planning cycle within the preliminary flood risk assessment and based on available information, as well as in subsequent cycles of planning, when carrying out the revision and updating of the preliminary flood risk assessment and the flood risk management plans.

This Guidance is aimed at those with responsibility for river basin management, including flood and drought risk management, in particular for delivery of the 2nd and 3rd river basin management cycles of the WFD (from 2015 until 2027).

The main chapters of this document (chapters 3-7) follow a similar pattern in terms of the structure of the guidance provided:

Guiding principles

Guiding principles are introduced in text boxes in the beginning of each chapter or key subchapter. The principles are meant to be generally applicable and intentionally broad to be valid across all Member States. The text boxes are followed by more detailed text explaining the principles.

Suggested actions

Following the explanatory texts of the guiding principles, text boxes introduce more concrete and practical actions to be taken in the coming years in order to apply the principles.

The Guidance starts with an overview of the EU policy framework relevant to water issues and climate change as well as reference to relevant adaptation initiatives in the Member States (chapter 2).

Chapter 3 provides a concise introduction to the use of models, projections and scenarios as key tools and information sources for those with responsibilities in river basin management to determine the likely impacts of climate change in river basins. Guiding principles are proposed on how to handle uncertainty from models, projections and scenarios in river basin management decision-making.

Going beyond the handling of available scientific knowledge and related uncertainties, chapter 4 provides guidance on setting up a strategy for building adaptive capacity for management under climate change, serving as a reminder of key aspects such as awarenessraising, stakeholder involvement, proper staff training and cooperation between different levels of authorities and sectors.

Chapter 5 puts forward guiding principles for adaptation to climate change in relation to the key steps in River Basin Management under the WFD (pressure and impact assessment; monitoring and status assessment; objective setting; economic analysis; measures for adaptation related to the WFD).

Chapters 0 and 7 provide specific guidance on flood risk management and drought management under climate change.

Read the full publication in PDF format by clicking here.

Citation: Common Implementation Strategy for the Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC) – River basin management in a changing climate, Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, 2009, ISBN 978-92-79-14298-7, doi:10.2779/93909


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