EU-Water Framework Directive, reference conditions & public participation : a comprehensive directive with antagonistic poles or a harmonious monopole?

University essay from SLU/Dept. of Urban and Rural Development

Abstract: The European Union accepted and approved the European Water Framework Directive (WFD) in 2000 through the European Parliament (WFD 2000/60/EC). It was seen as a joint decision to improve the water quality within the Union’s borders. The overall goal for water management is given as ‘good ecological status’ (GES) 15 years after implementation of the WFD. Two different scientific disciplines and often contradicting epistemologies lie at the heart of the WFD. Firstly, the classification of ecological status is with respect to a reference condition (RC), and RC is thought of as being the same as it was prior to significant human activity or disturbance, referred to as an “undisturbed state”. Secondly, public participation (PP), where it is explicitly argued that the success of the directive rested much on the outcome of PP. Information sharing from the decision makers seem to be the foremost important task when it comes to use of PP in the WFD. This study examined the relationship between RC and PP in the WFD through estimations of RC for 20 Swedish lakes with different input data, and a lake specific case-study in which perceptions of stakeholders in relation to what they believed was important for “their” lake. Furthermore, this study has explored the origin of the phrase ‘undisturbed state’ in relation to water bodies and explored the relationship between science and policy in the WFD.The results indicate that there is no direct relationship between PP and RC when considering the public’s perception. This study shows that the local people posses a great knowledge on specific events that they have visually experienced. The link between RC and PP in the WFD is clearer when the uncertainties for science are too large and classification of a lake cannot be made. Then local knowledge bought out through public participation could help in the classification of a lake and the establishment of the RC. This study supports the difficulties and uncertainties of determining RC for Swedish surface water, however, the basic values people hold about clean and unpolluted water corresponds well with the overall goal of GES for Swedish lakes. This raises the questions, should we keep our focus mainly on RC or use more of the basic values and local knowledge to focus on human benefits.

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