Economic analysis of water use

Speaking about exemptions (called also repeals) we should remember that it is an element of a planning process accompanying environmental objectives. Similarly to environmental objectives, exemptions were defined in art.4 of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) and in Polish law in the Water Law Act.
In the light of WFD environmental objective shall provide long-term and reasonable water management and protection of water resources according to sustainable development. Art. 4, paragraph 1 of WFD defines the main objective of WFD which should be achieved by all surface water bodies and groundwater bodies (i.e. good status by 2015). The principle of preventing any deterioration of the status of water bodies were also introduced. In the same article environmental objectives for heavily modified and artificial water bodies were identified (i.e. good ecological potential and good chemical status) and the exact defining criteria were established. Many disputes over heavily modified and artificial water bodies – should they be treated as ‘alternative objectives’ or as repeals – appeared during the preparation of the first river basin management plans. Finally this issue was explained by the guidance document CIS Guidance Document No. 20: Guidance on exemptions to the environmental objectives (2009).
The integral part of environmental objectives are so called exemptions. Art.4, paragraph 4-7 of WFD and art.38 of the Water Law Act define the conditions and procedure in which exemptions can be used. In the situation when achieving environmental objectives for particular water bodies is not possible, because of technical conditions, too high costs of measures aiming at improving the status or because of natural conditions, it is permissible to:
  • extend the deadline (time repeal); the good status shall be achieved at latest by 2021 or 2027 (art. 4, paragraph 4 of WFD) or in the shortest time which is allowed by natural conditions, after 2027.
Time repeals can be established as a result of:
- lack of technical capabilities of implementing the measures
- disproportional costs of implementation
- natural conditions not allowing to improve the status of water bodies
in situations when:
- there are no deteriorations in the status of water bodies,
- there is extension of deadline and it is justified in a river basin management plan,
- the measures aiming at achieving by particular water bodies good status at the proposed (extended) time together with timetable of its accomplishment are defined in a river basin management plan.
  • achieving less stringent objectives on special conditions (art. 4, paragraph 5 of WFD):
Less stringent objectives are identified for those water bodies which were modified as a result of human activity or the conditions of water bodies make it impossible to achieve the good status (potential) because of: 
- lack of technical capabilities of implementing the measures
- disproportional costs of implementation
in situation when:
- it is possible to achieve the status closest to the requirements of good status at particular impacts,
- there is no further deterioration in the status of water bodies,
- the set less stringent objectives and their reasons are presented in a river basin management plan.
  • temporary deterioration in the status in case of circumstances of natural cause or force majeure e.g. floods and droughts (art.4, paragraph 6 of WFD);
Temporary deteriorations mean certain circumstances which are exceptional or which could not be reasonably foreseen. This type of exemption requires using the same terms of ‘extreme floods’ and ‘prolonged droughts’ by all Member States. These terms are explained in the guidance document CIS Guidance Document No. 20: Guidance on exemptions to the environmental objectives (2009).
  • new modifications to the physical characteristic of a surface water body and alterations to the level of groundwater bodies or not preventing the deterioration of surface water bodies (from high status to good status) as a result of new sustainable human development activities (art. 4, paragraph 7 of WFD).
In accordance with art. 4 paragraph 3 of WFD, when a new hydro-morphological change appears it can be necessary to classify water bodies as heavily modified in the next planning cycle. In accordance with WFD they can be identified as heavily modified before the next river basin management plan is announced. However, on the basis of predicted significant hydro-morphological change water bodies cannot be identified as heavily modified before the new modification takes place. When applying art.4, paragraph 7 and in the case of identification of new heavily modified water bodies the approach prepared in the scope of guidelines for heavily modified water bodies should be applied (Guidance document No. 4 Identification and Designation of Heavily Modified and Artificial Water Bodies).
The common characteristic of all above-mentioned exemptions to achieve environmental objectives is the requirement of fulfilling stringent conditions and presenting the justification in river basin management plans. Moreover, the Water Framework Directive in art. 4 paragraph 8 and 9 establishes two principles which can be applied to all exemptions. Firstly, exemptions cannot exclude or make it difficult to achieve environmental objectives in other water bodies. Secondly, at least the same level of protection as the existing Commission legislation should be achieved.
Generally, it is assumed that exemptions described in art. 4 paragraph 4-6 of WFD can be applied to all environmental objectives, hence also to art.4 paragraph 1(c) which specifies objectives for protected areas. However, art. 4 paragraph 9 clearly defines that the exemption on the basis of art.4 can be applied if and only if it guarantees at least the same level of protection as the existing Community legislation. 
For example: a new development is proposed that would cause deterioration of status and a failure to achieve the objectives for a Natura 2000 site. In such a case, in order to fulfil both WFD and the Habitats Directive: the relevant conditions set out in Article 4 paragraph 7 of WFD for allowing deterioration of status would have to be met to the extent that it is a water body; and the conditions set out in Article 6 of the Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC) for allowing a failure to achieve a Natura 2000 site’s objective would have to be met.
The Water Framework Directive is an environmental directive, it means that use of exemptions in its fulfilling should be an exception and not a rule.
Source: Policy Paper „Exemptions to the Environmental Objectives under the Water Framework Directive”, Common Implementation Strategy for the WFD, November 2007.
European Commission guidelines on exemptions are available on the website:

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