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Indicator Assessment

Ecological status of surface waters in Europe

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-542-en
  Also known as: WAT 008
Published 31 Aug 2021 Last modified 31 Aug 2021
1 min read

The Water Framework Directive aims to achieve good status for all rivers, lakes and transitional and coastal waters in the EU. Achieving good ecological status for surface waters is critical to this. According to countries’ second river basin management plans, good ecological status had been achieved for around 40% of surface waters (rivers, lakes and transitional and coastal waters) by 2015. However, these plans show only limited improvement in ecological status since the first plans were published in 2009, with ecological status remaining similar for most water bodies.


Distribution of ecological status or potential of classified rivers, lakes, coastal and transitional waters, by count of water bodies

Chart
Data sources:
Table
Data sources:

Surface waters are important habitats. They are key for supporting society and the economy throughout Europe and clean, unpolluted waters are essential for healthy ecosystems. However, surface waters have traditionally been used as disposal routes for human, agricultural and industrial wastes, damaging water quality. They have also been altered (by building dams and canals, etc.) to facilitate agriculture and urbanisation, produce energy and protect against flooding, all of which can change and degrade habitats.

The Water Framework Directive (WFD) (EU, 2000) stipulates that EU Member States should aim to achieve good status for all surface water and groundwater bodies (EEA, 2018a, 2019). Ecological status and potential are criteria used to assess the quality of the structure and functioning of surface water ecosystems. Ecological status is influenced by water quality (e.g. pollution) and habitat degradation, and is used as a proxy for the overall status of water bodies.

According to countries’ second river basin management plans (RBMPs) covering the period up to 2015, good or better (high) ecological status has been achieved for only around 40% of surface waters (rivers, lakes, and transitional and coastal waters). Moreover, there has been little improvement in ecological status since the publication of the first RBMPs in 2009, with the status of most water bodies remaining similar. Despite this lack of overall improvement, the status of many of the individual elements that make up ecological status has improved (EEA, 2018b).

The main pressures on surface water bodies are pollution from point (e.g. waste water) and diffuse (e.g. agriculture) sources, and various hydromorphological pressures such as barriers (dams), and low-flow or channelised rivers, with the main impacts being nutrient enrichment, chemical pollution and habitat alterations due to morphological changes (EEA, 2018b).

To improve and restore the approximately 60% of surface waters in the EU that still have less than good ecological status, and meet WFD objectives, full implementation of management and mitigation measures under the WFD, in combination with full implementation of measures under other relevant directives, is needed.

Percentage of water bodies, not in good ecological status or potential, per river basic district

Note: The map present the proportion of surface water bodies (rivers, lakes, transitional and coastal waters) in less than good ecological status per River Basin District.

Data source:

The percentage of water bodies with less than good (i.e. moderate, poor or bad) ecological status varies between river basin districts (RBDs) across Europe. Surface water bodies in north-western Europe have the lowest status. In Belgium (Flanders), northern Germany and the Netherlands, the ecological status of more than 90% of surface waters is reported to be less than good. Other problem areas include Czechia, southern England (United Kingdom), northern France, southern Germany, Hungary and Poland, as well as several individual RBDs in some countries, where 70-90% of surface water bodies are reported to have less than good status.

Northern countries, particularly the northern Scandinavian region, Iceland, Ireland and Scotland (United Kingdom), along with Estonia, Romania, Slovakia and several RBDs in the Mediterranean region, have a high proportion of water bodies with good or better (high) ecological status or potential.

Supporting information

Indicator definition

Countries report data on the ecological status of their water bodies to the European Commission and these data are stored in the WFD database.

Much work has been done in relation to implementing the WFD and producing RBMPs. The ecological status of water bodies is based on comprehensive work carried out in the RBDs and is by far the best estimate of the status of surface waters.

The ecological status is comparable between countries and RBDs to a certain extent; however, the interpretation of differences in status should take into account differences in the use of quality elements in determining overall status.

Overall, the second RBMPs (published after December 2015) show limited change in status since the first RBMPs were published in 2009, with the same status being reported for most water bodies in both cycles (EEA, 2018b). The proportion of water bodies with unknown status has decreased, however, and confidence in status assessments has grown. Improvements are visible at the level of individual quality elements or pollutants, but often do not translate into improved overall status.

Units

Proportion of water bodies with high or good ecological status.


 

Policy context and targets

Context description

The WFD (EU, 2000) stipulates that EU Member States should aim to achieve good status for all bodies of surface water and groundwater. Ecological status is used here as a proxy for the overall status of water bodies.

Ecological status and potential are criteria used to assess the quality of the structure and functioning of surface water ecosystems. A surface water body with good ecological status shows low levels of distortion resulting from human activity. Ecological status is influenced by water quality (e.g. levels of pollution of all types) as well as habitat degradation.

Targets

No targets have been specified

Related policy documents

No related policy documents have been specified

 

Methodology

Methodology for indicator calculation

Ecological status is an assessment of the quality of the structure and functioning of surface water ecosystems. It shows the influence of pressures (e.g. pollution and habitat degradation) on the identified quality elements. Ecological status is determined for each of the surface water bodies of rivers, lakes, transitional waters and coastal waters, based on biological quality elements and supported by physico‑chemical and hydromorphological quality elements. The overall ecological status classification for a water body is determined, according to the ‘one out, all out’ principle, by the element with the worst status of all the biological and supporting quality elements (EEA, 2018b).

 

References

EC, 2011, Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions ‘Our life insurance, our natural capital: an EU biodiversity strategy to 2020’ (COM(2011) 244 final).

EEA, 2018a,Environmental indicator report 2018 — in support to the monitoring of the Seventh Environment Action Programme, EEA Report No 19/2018, European Environment Agency (https://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/environmental-indicator-report-2018) accessed 15 August 2019.

EEA, 2018b,European waters — assessment of status and pressures 2018, EEA Report No 7/2018, European Environment Agency (https://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/state-of-water) accessed 6 December 2018.

EEA, 2019,The European environment — state and outlook 2020: knowledge for transition to a sustainable Europe, European Environment Agency (https://www.eea.europa.eu/soer-2020) accessed 9 December 2019.

EEA, 2020, ‘WISE Water Framework Directive database’, European Environment Agency (https://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/data/wise-wfd-4) accessed 21 April 2021.

 

Policy references

EU, 2000, Directive 2000/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2000 establishing a framework for community action in the field of water policy (OJ L 327, 22.12.2000, p. 1-73).

EU, 2013, Decision No 1386/2013/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 November 2013 on a general Union environment action programme to 2020 ‘Living well, within the limits of our planet’ (OJ L 354, 28.12.2013, p. 171-200).

Methodology for gap filling

No methodology for gap filling has been specified. Probably this info has been added together with indicator calculation.

Methodology references

 

Uncertainties

Methodology uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Data sets uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Rationale uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Data sources

Other info

DPSIR: State
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • WAT 008
Frequency of updates
Updates are scheduled every 6 years
EEA Contact Info info@eea.europa.eu

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Geographic coverage

Temporal coverage

Dates