The protection and management of freshwater resources is a vital task for Europe. Pollution from agriculture, industry and urban areas continues to contaminate water courses, threatening human health and the environment. Dams, solid embankments and other land use changes also harm the ecosystems of rivers, lakes and wetlands.

The EU Water Framework Directive is an innovative piece of legislation to address these problems, together with other EU Directives (on drinking water, bathing water, floods, wastewater treatment plants and others); however, their full implementation across the EU has not yet been achieved. Moreover, climate change brings new threats: higher risks of flooding in northern Europe especially; and projections that water scarcity and drought will increase in southern Europe. Better water management is thus a key challenge for the EU, for Europe’s neighbours in Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean, and for countries around the world.

Milieu supports the European Commission on the implementation of several water policies, through compliance assessments and studies on technical issues. We assess implementation at EU and Member State levels. We currently hold the framework contract on ‘Water for Citizens’ which supports the Commission’s policy activities on bathing water, drinking water and urban wastewater treatment (DG Environment, 2016-2019). Milieu has also provided legal assistance and training on water management for EU Candidate Countries as well as Europe’s neighbours in Eastern Europe.

Some examples of Milieu’s work in this field are:

Good quality water is essential for wildlife, agriculture and business to thrive. River Basin Management Plans are a requirement of the WFD: they should protect and ensure the sustainable use of the water environment across Europe. Similarly, the FD requires Member States to draw up Flood Risk Management Plans.

Milieu helped the Commission in the assessment of these plans in the 28 Member States (carried out by Milieu’s partner WRc under the Water Framework Directive and under Milieu’s lead for the Floods Directive).

From late spring to early autumn, as European beaches become crowded with bathers, water quality needs to be monitored. The new Bathing Water Directive has helped to improve bathing water quality across Europe and reduce detrimental impacts on human health. However, despite these results, significant problems in Member State implementation of the Directive remain.

Milieu helped the Commission to conduct a ‘reality check’ of the implementation of the Directive, focusing on identifying practical challenges linked to the monitoring and assessment of bathing waters, using both officially reported data as well as other national and local sources of information.

The quality of the water entering many cities around the world is directly dependent on the landscapes through which the water flows or is extracted. Good land management can promote water filtration and reduce the amount of sediment and nutrients that can make their way into the rivers, springs and aquifers that feed drinking water supplies. Around the world, TNC promotes initiatives that combine habitat protection with drinking water protection.

To support TNC’s work in Europe, Milieu carried out a study to map current policy actions and financial initiatives for drinking water protection in the EU and the Western Balkans and to identify policy opportunities.

Cohesion Policy and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), as the EU’s main investment policies, have a responsibility to mainstream environment into its programmes and projects. Cohesion Policy funding is an important implementation tool for the Water Framework Directive (WFD) and other EU water legislation and policies, co-financing both large infrastructure projects and smaller measures. Agriculture is one of the main pressures that Member States need to address.

Milieu supported the Commission in the assessment of Operational Programmes (OPs) financed by Cohesion Policy and the Rural Development Programmes (RDPs) financed by the CAP, to ensure that they are coherent with the WFD and understand how their measures will contribute to the achievement of WFD objectives.