The European Topic Centre on Inland Waters (ETC/IW) was appointed in December 1994 by the Management Board of the European Environment Agency (EEA) to act as a centre of expertise for use by the Agency and to undertake part of the EEA’s multi-annual work programme. The key Task of the first year’s programme was to design a freshwater monitoring network for the EEA area. This Task is fully described in this report.

Over the past two decades four European Community Action Programmes on the environment have given rise to about 200 pieces of environmental legislation. While a great deal has been achieved, the general state of the environment continues to slowly deteriorate. This assessment was made in The Fifth Environmental Action Programme based on a Report on the State of the Environment. The Action Programme highlighted the need for ‘a more far reaching and more effective strategy’ which could only be assured if the quantity and quality of information was good enough. Against this background, it was decided to establish a European Environment Agency.

The main task of the Agency is to provide the European Union and the EEA Member States with:

‘objective, reliable and comparable information at a European level enabling them to take the requisite measures to protect the environment, to assess the results of such measures and to ensure that the public is properly informed about the state of the environment’.

The EEA has the duty to update the Dobríš (State of Europe’s Environment) report in 1998 and is also required to produce monographs on specific issues such as groundwater quality/quantity and eutrophication.

Information is thus required on:

  • the status of Europe’s water resources (status assessments); and,
  • how that relates and responds to pressures on the environment (cause-effect relationships).

Member States monitor water resources according to their national requirements (e.g. legal and operational) and international obligations (e.g. European Commission (EC) directives and International Agreements). The information arising from this monitoring is potentially a major source for the EEA. However, the information required by the European Commission from Member States is primarily for assessing implementation of and compliance with directives rather than for the provision of information on the general status or quality of water resources. It is this latter type of information, provided in a comparable way from a representative sample of Europe’s water resources, that is required. Information from directives is not, therefore, likely to be suitable for the needs of the EEA.

Information from International Agreements will be of use to the EEA. However, to be of use data will have to be comparable between the different agreements, and the data will represent only those waters covered in the agreements, that is the major water bodies/catchments in Europe.

The proposed network for the EEA to obtain the information it requires is designed to give a representative view or assessment of water types within a Member State and also across the EEA area. It will ensure that similar types of water body are compared. The need to compare like-with-like has led to a stratified design with the identified and defined strata containing similar water bodies. The use of the same criteria for selecting strata and water types across Member States will ensure that valid status comparisons will be obtained.

The EEA network will:

  1. Be representative of the size/numbers/types of water bodies in the EEA area (e.g. small rivers), variation in human pressures (e.g. population density and land use), and, will include a number of reference and flux stations.
  2. For rivers, have reference, representative, impact (part of representative network) stations, and flux monitoring stations at discharge into sea, or at international boundaries.
  3. For lakes, have a general surveillance network comprising reference and representative lakes, and if necessary, (in the light of experience) an impact network with lakes selected on the basis of population density. In addition the largest and most important lakes (nationally) will be included and possibly a specific cause/effect network of lakes.
  4. For groundwater, have a general surveillance network comprising representative stations selected in all nationally important aquifers, groundwater in porous media, karstic groundwater and others should be covered.

At present there is not enough comparable information to obtain a quantitative assessment of water resources across Europe. This can lead to unfair or incomplete comparisons being made and wrong conclusions drawn. By submitting information within this proposed framework a ‘level playing field’ will be obtained so that Member States will have confidence in the conclusions being drawn. In addition the information will enable European environmental policies to targeted correctly and cost-effectively.

To minimise cost implications, where possible the monitoring network will be based on existing national and international networks, use existing sources of monitoring information and create, only if necessary, an EEA database of aggregated data and information rather than of raw non-processed data.

It should be emphasised that the information provided by the network will not be for the assessment of compliance of Member States with the requirements of European Commission directives.

The proposed network has been piloted and tested in four volunteer countries to date. Up to a further six countries have volunteered to pilot the network in the coming year. Results and experience from the piloting will be used to modify, where necessary, the design and the network will be progressively implemented step-by-step across the EEA area.



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