3.1 Why is information needed?

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. Several deficiencies in the available environmental information were highlighted:

  • a serious lack of base-line data, statistics, indicators and other quantitative and qualitative material required to assess environmental conditions and trends, to determine and adjust public policies and to underpin financial investments;
  • an almost complete absence of the more precise, quantitative data on human interventions and influences on the environment which are needed for meaningful modelling exercise and the optimisation of policy and large scale investment decisions;
  • information which is available is often not processed or presented in a suitable form for potential end users, administrations, enterprises and the general public and does not take into account the different levels of sophistication or simplification required, nor the fact that different types of decision require different types or levels of information.

Against this background, it was decided to establish a European Environment Agency. This section describes the reporting tasks laid down in the EEA Regulation (No. 1210/90, EEC 1990) and gives a broad indication of the policy issues. These are fully described in the report on the ETC/IW project MW1 (Nixon et al. 1996). In addition, key questions that the Agency may need, or be asked, to address were identified by the ETC members.

3.2 The role of European Environment Agency

3.2.1 EEA Regulation

The European Environment Agency was established by Council Regulation (COM 1995) No. 1210/90 of 7 May 1990. The Regulation describes in detail the role and tasks expected of the 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 Regulation also stipulates priority areas of work for the Agency in Article 3. These include ‘water quality, pollutants and water resources’. The Agency must also take into account in its descriptions and assessments of the environment:

  • the quality of the environment;
  • the pressures on the environment; and,
  • the sensitivity of the environment.

With regard to monitoring and information gathering Article 2 lists the Agency’s tasks to be:

  • to establish, in co-operation with the Member States, and co-ordinate the network referred to in Article 4 [EIONET]. In this context, the Agency shall be responsible for the collection, processing and analysis of data, in particular in the fields referred to in Article 3...
  • to provide the Community and the Member States with objective information necessary for framing and implementing sound and effective environmental policies; to that end, in particular to provide the Commission with the information that it needs to be able to carry successfully its tasks of identifying preparing and evaluating measures and legislation in the field of the environment;
  • to record, collate and assess data on the state of the environment, to draw up expert reports on the quality, sensitivity and pressures on the environment within the territory of the Community, to provide uniform assessment criteria for environmental data to be applied in all Member States. The Commission shall use this information in its task of ensuring the implementation of Community legislation on the environment;
  • to help ensure that environmental data at a European level are comparable and, if necessary, to encourage by appropriate means improved harmonisation of methods of measurement;
  • to promote the incorporation of European environmental information into international environment monitoring programmes such as those established by the United Nations and its specialised agencies.

3.2.2 The Dobríš Report

The pan-European Conference of Environment Ministers at Dobríš Castle in 1991 called for the preparation of a State of the Environment report for Europe and invited the European Commission to take responsibility for the work. This request recognised the need for the compilation of reliable and comparable data in order develop effective policies for Europe’s environment.

The report identified a number of problems associated with the aquatic environment in Europe not only in the EEA area but also in central and eastern European countries (CEEC). These included: water scarcity problems in southern European countries, over-exploitation of groundwater (65% of Europe’s population is supplied from groundwater), nitrate problems in north-western Europe, pesticides in soil water, river and lake eutrophication, and acidification of rivers and lakes. Important and significant information gaps were also identified including the absence of regional water resource statistics with the present rates and trends of water abstraction by source and economic sectors poorly known. Comparable and reliable data on groundwater quantity and quality are almost completely lacking and, in general, a comparison of surface water quality across Europe was very difficult due to lack of comparable and reliable data. In particular there is a lack of data on small rivers and lakes, and data on organic micropollutants, metals and radioactivity is patchy and incomplete. The biological assessments of river quality are carried out using a variety of methods and are therefore poorly comparable. There is also no pan-European water quality database and reporting schemes differ markedly between countries.

With regard to marine waters and seas there is very little comparable data on water quality and biology available for the White Sea and the Barents Sea, and estimates of pollutant loads from different human activities and natural sources in general are not available. There is also a need for a unified procedure for estimating land-based emissions to seas so that comparison of contaminant load estimates between different seas can be made. As for fresh water, there is no pan-European marine water quality database and reporting schemes differ markedly between seas.

The Dobríš report also defined prominent European environmental problems which have potential implications on the monitoring required (or at least the data and information required) to define and assess temporal and spatial differences. The Prominent European Environmental Problems (as defined in the Dobríš report) are summarised below.

  • Climate change:
    • effects on hydrological cycle
    • sea level rise (salination of freshwaters)
    • effects on aquatic ecosystems

  • Acidification
  • The management of freshwater:
    • water availability
    • water quality
      • groundwater pollution
      • eutrophication
      • organic pollution (including pathogens)
      • acidification

    • physical changes

Article 2 of the EEA Regulation also requires that a ‘state of the environment report’ be published every 3 years.

3.2.3 Establishment of a pan-European network

It is likely that the area of interest of the Agency will be extended to cover those countries included in the Dobríš assessment and will thus have a pan-European role. To that end the Third UNECE Conference of Environment Ministers held in Sofia on 23 to 25 October 1995 confirmed the pan-European mandate of the Agency. The conference also requested that the Agency should report on progress in respect of the main issues identified in the Dobríš report before the next conference scheduled for 1998. The EU PHARE programme has also endorsed CEEC collaboration with the EEA. Initially two projects will be funded in the 11 PHARE countries one of which will involve the setting up of an inland water-monitoring network. It will, however, be necessary to establish links with countries not include in the PHARE programme but covered by the Sofia Conference. These will include Belarussia, Moldova, the Russian Federation and Ukraine.

3.3 European policy

3.3.1 Groundwater action and water management programme

A Ministerial seminar held at the Hague in 1991, on the long term deterioration of the quality and quantity of water resources, emphasised the special significance of groundwater in the water cycle and in ecosystems, and as a source for drinking water. As a result, the European Council called for a Community Action and required that a detailed action programme be drawn up for comprehensive protection and management of groundwater as part of an overall policy on water protection. This has lead to a draft proposal for a Groundwater Action and Water Management Programme (GAP) which requires a programme of actions to be implemented by the year 2000 at national and Community level, aiming at sustainable management and protection of freshwater resources. The draft proposal develops the basic quality standards for groundwater adding, at the same time, a quantitative dimension to water management. National action programmes should aim for full implementation by 2000 and should address elements such as: mapping and monitoring of quality and quantity of freshwater resources, identification and designation of protection zones for areas of particular ecological interest and sensitivity, including present and future resources for drinking water and other resources. Water quality and quantity should be appropriately monitored in order to provide information allowing Member States to follow developments in quality and quantity of aquifers and, in particular, detection of early signs of deterioration from leaching of dangerous substances towards groundwater reservoirs

3.3.2 Fifth environmental action programme

The United Nations’ Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro focused the world’s attention on the need to promote environmentally sustainable development. Agenda 21 was one of the agreements arising from the Rio Conference which sets out a comprehensive programme of actions for achieving sustainable development, sector by sector for the next century. National strategies and action plans are the key to the implementation of Agenda 21: the 5th Environmental Action Programme, (EAP) published in March 1992, represents an important starting point for the implementation of Agenda 21 in the EU.

The 5th EAP stated that community policies must aim at:

  • prevention of pollution of fresh and marine surface waters and groundwater with particular emphasis on prevention at source;
  • restoration of natural ground and surface waters to an ecologically sound condition, thus ensuring a suitable source for extraction of drinking water;
  • ensuring that water demand and water supply are brought into equilibrium on the basis of more rational use and management of water resources.

Long term targets to be achieved by the year 2000 are also given. These are in line with the programme of action outlined in the Hague Declaration and the subsequent GAP. The objectives of these targets include for groundwater: the maintenance of uncontaminated aquifers; the prevention of further contamination of contaminated aquifers; and the restoration of contaminated aquifers for drinking water. For surface freshwaters, the objective is to maintain a high ecological quality with a biodiversity corresponding, as much as possible, to the unperturbed state of a given water; and for marine waters a reduction of discharges of all environmentally hazardous substances to levels consistent with a high standard of ecological quality. For marine waters there is also an action for surveillance of geographic zones with appropriate monitoring techniques. It is likely also that specific monitoring would be required to achieve the other objectives, particularly for groundwater, where relatively little monitoring is apparently undertaken at present.

3.3.3 Transboundary water course

This was developed under the auspices of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe to provide a mechanism for prevention of transboundary water pollution and rational use of water resources in Europe. The EU has signed the Convention and the Commission submitted to the Council in 1993 a proposal for a Council decision on the ratification of the Union’s signature. Though not yet ratified by the Council, monitoring programmes, if adopted, would be required for monitoring the condition of transboundary waters, surface and ground water. These programmes will be for quality and quantity determinants as appropriate for the water body and as agreed by the relevant States.

3.3.4 The proposed directive on the ecological quality of surface waters

The concept of directly assessing ecological quality rather than relying solely on chemical and physical measures has gained support over recent years. In recognition of this the European Commission proposed a directive on the ecological quality of water (COM (93) 680 final) which will require Member States to determine the ecological quality of their surface waters. Monitoring of a representative portion of all surface waters in the EU area will be required and will place the emphasis on biological determinants and indicators rather than solely on chemical and physical determinants. The Commission’s Communication on EC Water Policy (COM (96) 59 final) proposes to replace the Ecological Quality of Water proposal with a Water Resources Framework Directive which would have a wider scope of application. The basic requirement to assess ecological quality will, however, remain.

3.4 Identification of key questions

Consideration of the above led to the definition of what issues the Agency might wish to address, or be asked to address, and the questions that they might wish to respond to through the assessment of data and information obtained from an EEA-wide monitoring network.

  1. What is the ecological quality of surface waters in the EEA area and what are the spatial differences and temporal trends and how does this relate to human activities, land use, agricultural practices, point and non-point sources?
  2. What is the spatial extent and temporal trends of acidification of water across the EEA area?
  3. What is the nutrient status, spatially and temporally, of water resources in the EEA area, and how does this relate to human activities, land use, agricultural practices, point and non-point sources?
  4. What is the quality of water resources, spatially and temporally, in terms of pesticides, heavy metals, organic pollution and pathogens across the EEA area and how does this relate to human activities, land use, agricultural practices, point and non-point sources?
  5. What is the geographic spread of and trends in water availability (and eventually water usage) across the EEA area and how does this relate to human activities, land use, agricultural practices, point and non-point sources?
  6. What is the scale and importance of physical interventions in the hydrological cycle, for example, canalisation, impoundments, engineering, flood defences, in affecting water resources across the EEA area?
  7. What are the loads of contaminants entering the estuaries and seas of EEA area from freshwater sources? (This would also have to consider direct discharges downstream of freshwater limits i.e. into estuaries and nearshore waters).

Each of these questions could be sub-divided by further definitions of water types, for example: on headwaters, small rivers or large rivers. Some of these questions would be pertinent to both surface freshwaters and groundwater, and also to estuaries and coastal waters. It should be noted that this report does not include estuaries and tidal waters within the network design. In many of these questions there is an explicit need to try to relate differences in water quality and quantity to human activities in catchments, and thereby try to demonstrate cause/effect relationships. The addition of supportive ‘activity’ information will add a further layer of difficulty to implementing the network. There will, therefore, be key determinants (primary and secondary) and indicators that will provide the information to address the questions. Associated with the selected key determinants will be definition of sampling methodologies.

As important for comparability will be the expression of results. For example, annual averages, seasonal averages, percentiles, range, confidence limits and data handling procedures (validation, treatment of "less than" and missing values, identification of outliers etc., data storage and transfer procedures. The precision of aggregated statistics (for example the estimated mean or 10th percentile) depends on the variability (usually random variation, but also systematic variation in some circumstances) of the data as well as the number of sampling stations and the sampling frequency at those stations. The more variability there is the more samples and/or sampling stations will be needed to attain a certain level of precision. It is important to have good precision so that the chances of detecting real differences are satisfactorily high.

3.5 Presentation of results

As has already been described there is likely to be a wide audience for the information provided and reported by the Agency. This will include technical experts, national regulators, pressure groups, national and European politicians and policy makers. It is likely, therefore, that the level or type of information they require (and are able to interpret or understand) will be different ranging from detailed statistical assessments of current status and trends in key sectors to summary colours on maps giving very broad brush comparisons between States across Europe.

In the present Dobríš report a series of coloured pie charts and symbols on maps are provided for comparison using a number of coloured ‘classes’ based on ranges of determinant levels. This implies that some sort of classification may be applicable or desirable giving the requirement for additional technical decisions on how any particular site or water body should be assigned a class. This would potentially be of great (political) importance to individual European States. This is discussed further in Section 7.8. As well as this type of comparison map it is likely that thematic reports will be required in which specific problems will be temporally and spatially assessed and compared. Spatial comparisons would be generally presented again as different colours. There may also be a desire to relate differences in quality and quantity to potential causal agents, that is establish ‘cause and effect relationships’. This in itself raises many difficult technical issues and points of debate. Perhaps it should serve as a reminder that when statistical rules and procedures are applied in the design of the network that all may be reduced to five colours on maps.

It is also understood that the Agency has no desire to establish, and would not be best able to handle, a large database of monitoring data. Rather, it will be the recipient of metadata or summary information. It will be important, therefore, that procedures are introduced with the national data keepers so that comparable metadata will be dispatched to the Agency. It will also be important that thematic and quality reports are produced promptly by the Agency from up-to-date information rather than that collected several years previously. Information from each country would also have to have been collected over the same period (year).



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