The water-related legislation that has been enacted under the Environment Protection Act aims to protect water resources through the regulation and management of pressures, in order to safeguard the water bodies and the services that they provide. The legislation also provides for monitoring of our waters, in order to assess status and trends, and to adapt as necessary.

The two main pieces of legislation in force are the Water Framework Directive Regulations , which transpose the Water Framework Directive (WFD) and the linked Environmental Quality Standards Directive (EQS), and the Marine Strategy Framework Regulations, which transpose the Marine Strategy Framework Directive.

The WFD encompasses inland surface waters, transitional waters, territorial waters and groundwater, while the MSFD encompasses all marine waters, extending the geographical coverage as well as the scope of the marine waters covered by the Water Framework legislation.

Both dossiers adopt an over-arching and cyclic approach:

  • characterising and assessing the status of waters on the basis of various physical, chemical and biological elements
  • developing and implementing measures to address identified pressures and maintain/improve the status of water and associated aquatic ecosystems
  • monitoring to provide information on the status of the water resources and the effects of the measures

The aim is to adapt the measures and monitoring as needed for continuous improvement, based on knowledge acquired and lessons learnt.

Other key water-related legislation, which pre-date the WFD and MSFD, namely the Nitrates Directive (transposed through the Protection of Waters against Nitrates Pollution from Agricultural Sources Regulations) and the Urban Waste Water Directive (transposed through the Urban Waste Water Treatment Regulations), adopt a sectoral approach to address water pollution from agriculture and urban waste water respectively.

The WFD and MSFD promote an integrated approach towards the protection of water resources across sectors and their implementation needs to consider how other legislation that has a bearing on aquatic ecosystems and water quality is being implemented.