The EU Water Framework Directive (Directive 2000/60/EC) – WFD – is considered to be one of the most important pieces of legislation about water produced by the European Commission in the past 20 years. This Directive aimed to be the main driver for the sustainable management of water in the EU and its member states in the years to come.

Water is not a commercial product like any other but, rather, a heritage which must be protected, defended and treated as such. Thus, the purpose of the WFD is to establish a framework for the protection of inland surface waters, transitional waters, coastal waters and groundwater. It would thus lead to the prevention of further deterioration as well as to protect and enhance the status of aquatic ecosystems. It requires that all inland and coastal waters reach at least good ecological and chemical status by 2015 and maintaining good status or better thereafter. Good water quality will contribute to securing the drinking water supply for the population.

The WFD promotes sustainable water use based on a long-term protection of available water resources and aims at enhanced protection and improvement of the aquatic environment, through specific measures for the progressive reduction and phasing out of discharges, emissions and losses of priority hazardous substances.

The WFD adopts an over-arching and cyclic approach:

  1. characterising and assessing the status of water bodies on the basis of various physical, chemical and biological elements
  2. developing and implementing measures to address identified pressures and maintain/improve the status of the water bodies
  3. monitoring to provide information on the status of the water bodies and the effects of the measures.

The outcome of the above are encompassed in the Member States’ River Basin Management Plans, or Water Catchment Management Plan in Malta’s case, which are reviewed every six years.

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

In Malta, the WFD is transposed in national legislation through the Water Policy Framework Regulations (S.L. 549.100) which also transpose other closely linked EU legislation, in particular the Environmental Quality Standards Directive (Directive 208/105/EC) which lays down environmental quality standards (EQS) for priority substances and certain other pollutants, with the aim of achieving good surface water chemical status.

The Water Framework Directive was complemented by the adoption of Directive 2008/56/EC establishing a framework for community action in the field of marine environmental policy (Marine Strategy Framework Directive). Through this legislation, the definition of marine waters has been extended to cover waters, the seabed and subsoil on the seaward side of the baseline from which the extent of territorial waters is measured extending to the outmost reach of the area where a Member State has and/or exercises jurisdictional rights, in accordance with UNCLOS.