There has been coverage in the Guardian and the Times following the Environment Agency’s publication of updated River Basin Management Plans for England.
It incorrectly claims that the target for Good status of England’s water bodies has moved back to 2063. This is not true – it remains at 2027. This is a legal target set out in the Water Framework Directive (WFD).
There is, however, an exemption for a small number of persistent chemicals – known as uPBT (ubiquitous, persistent, bioaccumulative, toxic) substances. This exemption is set out in the WFD and is fully compliant with the regulations.
It recognises that although we have taken action to prevent them entering the water – including national and international bans – there is no feasible technical solution to remove them entirely and they will take time to naturally drop to required levels.
It is an issue that countries across the EU are facing.
Over 90% of England’s water bodies would be at Good Chemical Status were it not for the presence of these few uPBT (ubiquitous, persistent, bioaccumulative, toxic) substances. The WFD ‘one out all out’ rule water must be at Good for all elements and will fail overall if just one element fails. So, 3 uPBTs (Mercury, PFOS and PBDE) are generally causing water body failure out of around 50 priority substances monitored. Almost 80% of individual tests meet the threshold for good ecological status but only 16% of surface waters achieve good ecological status.
The 2063 date for these persistent chemicals mentioned is not a new target, it is a modelling prediction by the Environment Agency on how long it will take for the levels to dissipate under the exemption.
An Environment Agency spokesperson said:
It’s incorrect to say the target for Good status of England’s water bodies has been changed – it is still 2027, as outlined in the Water Framework Directive.
The Government will outline further detail on plans to improve water quality as part of the Environmental improvement Plan to be published next year.