ROD & GUN: Shoring Up Northern Ireland's Water Policy

The News Letter (Belfast, Northern Ireland), April 20, 2002 | Go to article overview

ROD & GUN: Shoring Up Northern Ireland's Water Policy

Byline: D.C KINNEY

THE European Water Framework Directive will eventually replace a number of earlier water directives and will attempt to address water policy across European member states in a more coherent and sustainable way than the current approach.

A seminar on the directive was held in Parliament Buildings, Stormont, this week. It was organised by the Research and Library Service of the Assembly and chaired by Mr Jim WIlson MLA.

In his opening remarks, Mr Wilson said the directive will cover surface waters, groundwaters, coastal waters and, importantly for Northern Ireland, it will be necessary to establish an international river basin district with the Republic.

Mr Wilson said: "Central to this more integrated approach to management of water resources is the use of the river basin or catchment area as the basic management unit. But integrated catchment is not just about the management of the water resource; it must, in fact, address the integration of all land and water management activities which impact upon water quality and quantity within a catchment area.

"The Water Framework Directive, in my opinion, if implemented in an integrated and co-ordinated fashion incorporating all stakeholder views and involving people in active participation for implementation, offers the opportunity to decisively address the divergent policy objectives that all too often result in a negative impact on our water resources.

"This may be particularly true in Northern Ireland, where responsibility for many aspects of water management is shared between a number of Government departments.

"The directive offers the opportunity for a more holistic and sustainable approach to water policy in Northern Ireland but if it is to do so in a tangible way it must differ from the current approach in three aspects:

The ecological and hydrological aspect of the water environment must be given more importance with respect to economic and political factors.

If there is to be a successful implementation of the directive then no one interest must be allowed to attain or be perceived to have attained, a greater importance than any other. If there are losers in the process, then the the process has failed.

There must be an integration of both terrestrial and aquatic activities."

Mr Wilson's remarks may well have given the Rivers Agency and other Government departments pause for thought as they look back on some of the more damaging projects inflicted on our rivers in the past.

Kirsty Lewin, head of the RSPB's water policy team in the UK, reiterated Mr Wilson's emphasis on the need for integrated catchment management to address the wide range of interests in and pressures on water resources.

She said 122,000 hectares of wetlands had been lost or damaged between 1949 and 1976. This, she said, was an important issue given the role of wetlands in the water cycle and as habitat for wading birds.

The directive requires river basin management plans to be drawn up by 2009. Mr Angus McRobert, from the Environment and Heritage Service, said these would be much more detailed than the water quality management plans already produced by the Foyle, Lagan and Erne catchments.

The directive also requires member states with common borders to identify international river basin districts. National and international river basin districts will have to be identified by 2003, although the actual plans do not have to be produced until 2009.

What a pity that my suggestion at the time of the Black Inquiry that development of our angling resources should be based on river catchment areas was not acted upon. Inaction was for what I considered then, and still do, as invalid reasons.

Anyway, the ultimate objective of the directive is for all waters - rivers, lakes, groundwaters and estuaries - to reach good status by 2015. …

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