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2.4              European policy impetus

In the European Union, a number of legislative and policy processes have provided further impetus to manage urban rivers and lakes in a more integrated way, by means of linking water quality improvements with ecosystem protection, climate change adaptation and recently with urban development.

The Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive (UWWTD) adopted already in 1991 aims at protecting the environment from the adverse effects of urban wastewater discharges and discharges from certain industrial sectors. Progress has been made in combating water pollution, especially in terms of wastewater effluents.

The Nitrates Directive also adopted in 1991 aims to prevent pollution of ground and surface waters from nitrates coming from agricultural sources. Although the Nitrates Directive is mainly relevant to agricultural activities outside urban areas, pollution from agricultural sources greatly impacts water quality in urban areas.

As public policies which exclusively focus on the fight against water pollution soon revealed their limitations, the EU adopted in 2000 the Water Framework Directive (WFD). This is the main piece of EU water legislation which reflects a turn from viewing water as a resource to viewing it as part of the environment. The WFD requires the achievement of good ecological and chemical status for all European surface waters including urban rivers and lakes. The 1st River Basin Management Plans implementing the WFD were adopted in 2009 and updated versions of these plans are to be drawn up on the basis of a 6-year cycle (2015, 2021). Despite improved water quality in cities, there is still room for improvement in the ecological status of their rivers and lakes. Many urban rivers are still encased in concrete structures, and along with degraded habitats make environmental objectives on the basis of the WFD challenging to achieve.

Due to changes to their physical structure, urban rivers and lakes are often defined as heavily modified water bodies (HMWB), according to Art. 4 (3) of the WFD, meaning that the important human uses which they serve (e.g. flood protection and transport) should not be undermined by measures taken to improve their status. In the same time, the WFD spells out minimum requirements for the restoration and ecological quality enhancement of HMWB, including those in an urban setting.

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