Water Framework Directive and monitoring

Page Last modified 07 Nov 2018
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The Water Framework Directive covers all waters, including inland waters (surface water and groundwater) and transitional and coastal waters.

Article 8 of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) sets out the requirements for the monitoring of surface water status, groundwater status and protected areas:

"Monitoring programmes are required to establish a coherent and comprehensive overview of water status within each river basin district."

The objective of monitoring is to establish an overview within each River Basin District. It should also permit the classification of all surface water bodies into one of five classes and groundwater into one of two classes.


Source: EEA

Monitoring information requirements should include:

  • Classification status of surface water.
  • Chemical status of all groundwater bodies or groups of bodies determined to be at risk.
  • Reliable assessment of quantitative status of all groundwater bodies or groups of bodies.
  • Estimates of the direction and rate of flow in groundwater bodies that cross Member States boundaries. This should be used in the assessment of long term trends, both as a result of changes in natural conditions and through anthropogenic activity.
  • Estimates of pollutant loads transferred across international boundaries or discharged into seas.
  • Assessments of changes in status of water bodies.
  • Causes of water bodies failing to achieve environmental objectives.
  • The magnitude and impacts of accidental pollution.
  • The inter-calibration exercise.
  • Compliance assessments with the standards and objectives of Protected Areas.
  • A quantification of reference conditions (where they exist) for surface water bodies.

All programmes had to be operational by 22 December 2006 at the latest. Furthermore, they should adhere to the requirements of Annex V of the directive.

Types of monitoring

Three types of monitoring for surface waters are described in Annex V of the WFD: surveillance, operational and investigative monitoring. In terms of groundwater chemical status, surveillance and operational monitoring are required. For groundwater, a water level monitoring network is required which will provide a reliable assessment of the quantitative status of all groundwater bodies or groups of bodies including an assessment of the available groundwater resource. These types should be supplemented by monitoring programmes required for protected areas.

The directive specifies quality elements for the classification of ecological status that include hydro-morphological, chemical and physico-chemical elements supporting the biological elements.

  • For surveillance monitoring, parameters indicative of all the biological, hydro-morphological and general as well as specific physico-chemical quality elements must be monitored.
  • For operational monitoring, the parameters used should be those indicative of the biological and hydro-morphological quality elements most sensitive to the pressures to which the body is subject, as well as all priority substances discharged and other substances discharged in significant quantities. 

Parameters and quality elements

For surveillance monitoring of surface waters, Member States must monitor at least for a period of a year for parameters indicative of all biological, hydro-morphological and general physico-chemical quality elements. Those priority list substances discharged into the river basin or sub-basins must be monitored. Other pollutants also need to be monitored, if they are discharged in significant quantities in the river basin or sub-basin.

For operational monitoring of surface waters, Member States are required to monitor for those biological and hydro-morphological quality elements most sensitive to the pressures to which the water body is subject.

Implementation and timeline

EU Member States have over recent years re-designed their monitoring programmes in order to meet the requirements of the WFD. The programmes had to be operational by 22 December 2006 at the latest, and Member States had to report their monitoring programmes to the Commission by 22 March 2007.

Publications and links

Documents produced under the Common Implementation Strategy for the Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC):

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