Page Last modified 09 Nov 2018
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The primary objective of the Water Framework Directive is the achievement of good status by 2015.

The good status of the water body comprises: good ecological status and good chemical status for surface waters, and good chemical and good quantitative status for groundwater.

How ‘good ecological status’ is defined is set out in Annex V of the Directive. Possible ‘high’, ‘good’ and ‘moderate’ status for the various quality elements are listed here. Quality elements include:

  • Biological elements, e.g. the composition and abundance of certain water plants [aquatic flora] or animals [benthic invertebrate fauna].
  • Hydromorphological elements, e.g. quantity and dynamics of water flow, river continuity or morphological conditions like structure of the riparian zone.
  • Chemical and physico-chemical elements supporting the biological elements, e.g. nutrient conditions (concentration of nitrogen and phosphorus), acidification status and pollution by hazardous substances.

A ‘high status’ ecosystem suffers from no or nearly no human pressure. In other words, it is as close to natural conditions as possible. This is also called the ‘reference conditions for good ecological status’. What these reference conditions are for a specific ecosystem depends on the ecosystem’s natural characteristics and geographic region. To make sure that they are defined in all Member States in a comparable, consistent way, all Member States participate in an intercalibration exercise.


The purpose of the intercalibration exercise is to ensure comparable ecological quality assessment systems and harmonised ecological quality criteria for surface waters across Europe. There are 14 Geographical Intercalibration Groups (GIGs) in Europe which aim to achieve this objective.

In addition to the achievement of good status, the following objectives have also been set:

  • No deterioration of status for surface and groundwater, and the protection, enhancement and restoration of all water bodies.
  • Progressive reduction of pollution of priority substances and phase-out of priority hazardous substances in surface waters as well as the prevention and limitation of input of pollutants in groundwater.
  • Reversal of any significant, upward trend of pollutants in groundwater.
  • Achievement of standards and objectives set for protected areas in Community legislation.

The Water Framework Directive also applies to heavily modified and artificial water bodies. For these water categories, specific objectives” are set. By 2015, only ‘good ecological potential’ has to be achieved. The WFD also sets very strict criteria for the designation of these artificial or heavily modified water bodies.

The environmental objectives and the circumstances (exemptions) in which countries are allowed to deviate are set out in Article 4 of the Water Framework Directive. Exemptions are an integral part of the environmental objectives of the WFD. They give Member States the possibility to deviate from the “good status” objective; these deviations range from small scale temporary exemptions like the extension of the deadline of 2015 to mid- and long term deviations from the rule of “good status by 2015”.

Publications and links

Learn more on the Commission’s web side

For further technical information on intercalibration, please visit the

JRC CIRCA Information exchange platform.

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