Main authors: Froukje Maria Platjouw, Harriet Moore, Susanne Wuijts, Sandra Boekhold, Susanne Klages, Isobel Wright, Morten Graversgaard and Gerard Velthof
FAIRWAYiS Editor: Jane Brandt
Source document: »Platjouw F. M. et al. (2021) Coherence in EU law and policy for the protection of drinking water resources. FAIRWAY Project Deliverable 6.1R 200 pp


Here we discuss the legal requirements imposed by the Directive on Environmental Impacts Assessment on states and/or the farming industry with a focus on ecological, monitoring and reporting, public participation (including farmer organisatons) and coordination requirements. The ecological requirements are subjected to a (vertical) coherence assessment of their contribution to FAIRWAY's objectives of protecting drinking water resources against pollution by nitrates and pesticides from agricultural practices.

Details of the analyses are contained in the Appendices of the full report:

Contents table
1. Overview of the Environmental Impacts Assessment Directive
2. Contribution of the Environmental Impacts Assessment Directive's requirements to achieving FAIRWAY's objectives

1. Overview of the Environmental Impacts Assessment Directive

The Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directives are important in enabling decision makers to understand the potential environmental impact of plans, programmes and projects. They can assist in preventing unnecessary damage to water bodies and contribute to the objectives of water policies, including the Water Framework Directive.

In particular, carrying out a SEA can be particularly helpful in reducing the environmental impacts of new plans and programmes that can lead to negative impacts on the aquatic environment. For instance, in the case of the development of renewable energy such as hydropower a SEA can help identifying the locations for hydropower plants which would interfere less with water status. Similarly, the EIA can help prevent or mitigate negative impacts on water status from a host of different activities.

More specifically, the 2014 EIA Directive applies to a wide range of defined public and private projects, which are defined in Annexes I and II. EIAs are mandatory for all projects listed in Annex I. These types of projects are considered as having significant effects on the environment and require an EIA (including long-distance railway lines, motorways and express roads, airports with a basic runway length of 2100 m or more, installations for the disposal of hazardous waste, installations for the disposal of non-hazardous waste exceeding 100 tonnes/day, or waste water treatment plants).

For projects listed in Annex II, the national authorities have to decide whether an EIA is needed. This is done by the "screening procedure", which determines the effects of projects based on thresholds/criteria or a case by case examination. However, the national authorities must take into account the criteria laid down in Annex III. The projects listed in Annex II are in general those not included in Annex I, but also other types such as urban development projects, flood-relief works, changes of Annex I and II existing projects.

The EIA procedure can be summarized as follows: the developer may request the competent authority to say what should be covered by the EIA information to be provided by the developer (scoping stage); the developer must provide information on the environmental impact (EIA report – Annex IV); the environmental authorities and the public (and affected member states) must be informed and consulted; the competent authority decides, taken into consideration the results of consultations. The public is informed of the decision afterwards and can challenge the decision before the courts.

2. Contribution of the Environmental Impacts Assessment Directive's requirements to achieving FAIRWAY's objectives

Table 2.6 Requirements and objectives of the EIA Directive

Label Requirements and objective of the EIA Directive
Adopt effective measures To adopt all measures necessary to ensure that, before development consent is given, projects likely to have significant effects on the environment by virtue, inter alia, of their nature, size or location are made subject to a requirement for development consent and an assessment with regard to their effects on the environment (Art. 2 (a)(i))
Identify and assess impacts The EIA shall identify, describe and assess in an appropriate manner, the direct and indirect significant effects of a project on the following factors:(a) population and human health;(b) biodiversity, with particular attention to species and habitats protected under Directive 92/43/EEC and Directive 2009/147/EC; (c) land, soil, water, air and climate (d) material assets, cultural heritage and the landscape the interaction between the factors referred to in points (a) to (d) (Art. 3.1)

Overall, the average scores from all participants for all EIA Directive requirements was very low, suggesting that respondents perceive the directive only contributes slightly positively (M = 0.5) to the protection of drinking water resources against pesticides and nitrates from agricultural practices. Figure 2.6 demonstrates that both requirements on average are scored as slightly enabling (between 0 and +1). However, scores were highly variable. For example, 80% of the respondents perceive the requirement to adopt effective measures (Art. 2 (a)(i)) to be neutral (0) or enabling (+1), 10% scored this requirement as counteracting (-2) the FAIRWAY objective, and 10% scored this requirement as indivisible (+3).

D61 fig206
Figure 2.6

Similarly, scores for the contribution of the requirement to identifying and assessing impacts to achieving the objective of FAIRWAY were also variable; 70% of respondents scored this requirement as enabling (+1) and reinforcing (+2), however, 10 % scored the requirement as constraining (-1) and only 20% of the respondents considered this requirement to be indivisible (+3) to the protection of drinking water resources.

Responses to open-ended survey items give some explanation about the overall scores, and variability between scores for different requirements. Comments suggest that responses vary because the EIA Directive requirements are perceived to be less directly related to the FAIRWAY objectives compared to other directives. For example, some respondents suggested that the EIA Directive requirements do not specifically address nitrates and pesticides, and thus, that the interaction is neutral (0), or in some cases, negative.

Other responses to open-ended questions indicate that respondents believe the contribution of EIA Directive requirements to achieving the FAIRWAY objective is influenced by the fact that the directive provides a degree of discretion to member states. The list of projects that may need an EIA can vary from country to country, in their typology and dimension. In some cases, agriculture projects which are relevant to the FAIRWAY objective may therefore be subject to an EIA, and therefore may contribute positively. For example, carrying out an EIA for animal rearing projects may include a solution for residues affecting the size of land needed and possible run-off to water resources. In this way, EIA may be relevant for the control and reduction of the use of fertilizers and possible leaching to drinking water resources. Thus, where the EIA Directive influences agricultural practice, the interaction is positive.

Another example given by a respondent of positive interactions related to influencing agricultural practice was that EIAs can also offer an important backstop to ensure that the environment is protected, particularly for intensification practices which can impact water quality. EIA regulations could for example protect rural land that is uncultivated or semi-natural against changes in agricultural activities that might cause damage by increasing productivity and/or physically changing field boundaries through ploughing or activities that affect the soil surface’ chemical status, such as adding fertilizer or soil improvers. Similarly, one respondent suggested that EIAs might have a positive contribution in the case of biogas production facilities and controlling the impact of digestate spreading on agricultural land that could impact drinking water. In that context, there would be a positive effect on the aim to protect drinking water resources.

The low average scores are partly due to some negative scorings, including -2 (counteracting) and -1 (constraining). The open-ended items in the survey did not provide any explanations for these negative scorings. However, it may be that, similar to scores for other directives, that these scores are related to the indirect nature of interactions between EIA requirements and the FAIRWAY objective.


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