Wetlands and the European Union Water Framework Directive

14/11/2000

Implementing the Ramsar Convention with the help of European Union Water Framework Directive

On 9-10 November the Directorate-General Environment of the European Commission and WWF organised the second seminar (in a series of three) to deal with key issues pertaining to the implementation of the new Water Framework Directive. About 120 participants from national and local administrations, research institutions, the private sector, and NGOs of more than 20 European Union member states and accession countries participated in the seminar focusing on "The role of wetlands in river basin management".

The purpose of the seminar was to explore the relationship between wetlands and the hydrological cycle, the extent to which different wetlands can regulate floods, sustain flows during dry periods, and recharge groundwater. It was argued that sustainable water management is best achieved through judicious utilisation of the natural functions of wetlands in conjunction with new technologies for controlling the hydrological cycle.

Ramsar's Regional Coordinator for Europe argued in his presentation that an understanding of the hydrological cycle is fundamental to the management of water resources and the aquatic environment. Aquatic ecosystems (or wetlands) are the source of water and life. Social well-being, economic stability and the natural environment are interdependent. Degradation of any one of these worsens the condition of all three. The Contracting Parties to the Convention on Wetlands have adopted in 1999 extensive guidelines on "Integrating wetland conservation and wise use into river basin management" that foreshadowed the new Framework Directive on Water recently adopted by the European Council and Parliament.

Friedrich Barth, of the European Commission, stressed that the purpose of the new Water Framework Directive is to protect and enhance inland surface waters, transitional waters, coastal waters, and groundwater. For the first time in European legislation for all these water categories, a good status is defined which Member States have to achieve within 15 years. With regard to wetlands, the Directive aims at the prevention of their further deterioration and the protection and enhancement of those wetlands directly depending on aquatic ecosystems. After the adoption by the European Council on 4 March 1996 of the Commission's "Communication on wise use and conservation of wetlands", this presents a great step forward by the EU legislator towards integrated wetland, water and catchment basin management.

For more details on the seminar programme and full presentation texts, please visit WWF's website www.wwffreshwater.org/seminars/sem2/overview.html .

 -- Tobias Salathé, Regional Coordinator for Europe

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