Reverse gear

New EU groundwater laws flayed

Published: Monday 15 August 2005

A new groundwater protection directive, introduced by EU environment ministers on June 24, 2005, is being viewed as a complete hogwash. The legislation ostensibly aims to improve the quality of groundwater, an important source of drinking water in many European countries, and replaces Article 17 of the EU Water Framework Directive of 2000. But experts allege it actually backtracks on existing groundwater protection measures.

The directive provides for member states to individually monitor and assess their groundwater and rectify pollution problems. Its approach is largely based on the 'principle of subsidiarity': it is up to the members to define the threshold values for pollutants that are a particular risk at national and/or regional level. Common 'European-level' standards are prescribed only for nitrates and pesticides, the limits for which have already been specified.

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB), a coalition of campaign groups, alleges that the new directive makes water supplies vulnerable to a broad spectrum of pollutants by not including the tough measures that were hoped for. "Almost every government that asked for it got its specific exemption, leaving the law with more loopholes than actual obligations," says Stefan Scheuer, EEB policy director. EEB also points out that no stringent regulations have been introduced for many hazardous chemicals, such as endocrine disrupters.

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