Main authors: Susanne Wuijts, Jacqueline Claessens, Luke Farrow, Donnacha G Doody, Susanne Klages, Christophoros Christophoridis, Rozalija Cvejić, Matjaž Glavan, Ingrid Nesheim, Froukje Platjouw, Isobel Wright, Jenny Rowbottom, Morten Graversgaard, Cors van den Brink, Inês Leitão, António Ferreira, Sandra Boekhold
Editor: Jane Brandt
Source document: Wuijts, S. et al. (2021) Protection of drinking water resources from agricultural pressures: effectiveness of EU regulations in the context of local realities. FAIRWAY Project Deliverable 6.3R 70 pp


In this section of FAIRWAYiS we have analysed the implementation of EU regulations in 11 different European countries and their effectiveness in 13 local governance arrangements for the protection of drinking water resources against agricultural pressures. We focussed on lessons that could be learnt regarding the coherence and consistency of the implementation of EU directives and their effects at local level using the OECD Principles on Water Governance (OECD 2015) as our analytical framework.

Contents table
1. Summary of results for the criteria: coherence, consistency and attainment of objectives
2. Complexities and inconsistencies of the European legal framework
3. Coherence of cross-sectoral connections at different levels
4. Mode of implementation and attainment of objectives at local level
5. Reflections on the analysis

1. Summary of results for the criteria: coherence, consistency and attainment of objectives

Table 3. Summary of results for the criteria coherence, consistency and the attainment of objectives at the local level, structured by the principles of the OECD framework (OECD, 2015)

Dimensions and Principles Analytical framework (OECD, 2015) Consistency of EU regulation Coherence across sectors and levels Mode of implementation and attainment objectives at local level

Capacity Authorities mostly have the capacity to lead, monitor and evaluate. Others lack staff. Finance is reported frequently as an obstacle at different levels.   Several governance measures have been adopted to build capacity to deliver water policy measures, such as public-private collaboration.
Policy coherence   Instruments reported for policy coherence relevant to horizontal collaboration include multi-sectoral, transboundary, interdisciplinary conferences, inter-agency programmes for specific issues, information sharing with the agri-food-industry and guidance on best practices. Limited vertical coordination across different levels of governance for several countries is reported because of the fragmentation of policies, disconnected bottom-up and top-down initiatives and data-protection at farm level.
Appropriate scales within basin systems EU directives are implemented on a sector-by-sector basis. Good collaboration reported at national level. Cross-sectoral collaboration can be more difficult at the lower levels. Scale is not considered a major issue for effectiveness. Similar to consistency of EU regulations, the issue of scale not regarded as a major issue for coherence in the different countries studied. The involvement of different sectors is considered to be more relevant. All countries use management instruments to support drinking water pollution control across scales, yet strategies differ. E.g. advice, participation, protection zones, special programmes.
Clear roles and responsibilities All countries have transposed EU directives into national law. All countries identify clear roles and responsibilities at national level for the planning stage. Less clarity exists at lower levels and during the realisation of policy objectives. Collaboration tools for policy coherence focus on national or river basin level, although there are exceptions. Obstacles reported: competing interests across levels and sectors, access to data, limited decision-making powers, lack of staff.  
Efficiency Regulatory frameworks in place and enforced   Regulatory frameworks and enforcement play an important role in achieving jointly agreed policy objectives. Different views exist on the balance between voluntary and legal based measures. Strong variation between countries on the role of legally-based measures and enforcement. Some countries have more voluntary based measures and yet have realised objectives at local level. Other interests, from farmers or other stakeholder groups may, therefore, play a more important role.
Data and information     Measures are based on knowledge of issues, effects and possibilities of legal framework. Some voluntary measures are less linked to water quality improvement and may be linked to economic motivations as well.
Trust and Engagement Trade-offs across users, areas, and generations     For countries that rely on voluntary based measures, the selection of measures is usually a balanced trade-off of costs and benefits for farmers. There is, however, little focus across generations.
Stakeholder engagement Stakeholder interactions do not occur at all levels. Motivations for engagement or not are: established networks, means and power to act, group size and costs. MAPs are a new way of engagement for some countries.    
Integrity and Transparency   Conflict prevention and resolution are addressed in different ways. Legal procedures are seldom used, as it is difficult to prove an offence has been committed.  

2. Complexities and inconsistencies of the European legal framework

At EU level, regulations and policies for agriculture and the protection of drinking water resources are explicitly linked (Platjouw, Moore et al. 2019). For instance, the Nitrate Directive (91/676/EEC) links to the objectives of the Drinking Water Directive (98/83/EC) and the WFD (2000/60/EC) forms an overarching framework for EU directives regarding specific water functions (e.g. drinking water, shellfish waters, bathing water), the use of chemicals and their effect on the environment and the state of Europe’s waters themselves. Although the directives are linked, their implementation produces collateral effects that hamper the effective protection of drinking water resources. The rules on the application of fertilisers, for example, are not always beneficial to groundwater and drinking water quality.

The implementation of the EU Directives often takes place along parallel tracks, and frequently under the responsibility of different ministries. Inconsistencies in agricultural policy that hamper an effective protection of drinking water resources, may therefore not manifest themselves at first sight and at all institutional levels. Examples reported of these inconsistencies are a disconnect between water quality standards and application rules for manure and pesticides, the issue of scale for evaluation, side effects of land use subsidies and incentives on water quality and the role of hydrogeology and geochemistry in the effects of land use policy (Platjouw, Moore et al. 2019). Earlier studies confirm that existing legal frameworks are insufficient to adequately protect drinking water resources from agricultural pollution (Keessen, Runhaar et al. 2011, Doody, Foy et al. 2012, Duncan, Morris et al. 2014, Jacobsen, Anker et al. 2017). For instance, the allocation of roles and responsibilities differs between directives which means cross-sectoral collaborations take place across different institutional levels. Some of these differences can be explained by the evolution of EU legislation over time, caused by a greater understanding of water systems and societal and economic developments. The more explicit role of the subsidiarity principle in the WFD means that decision-making on waterbody-specific objectives and measures takes place at regional or local level, whereas implementation of the ND primarily takes place at national level (Kastens and Newig 2007, Hüesker and Moss 2015, Van Rijswick and Keessen 2017).

3. Coherence of cross-sectoral connections at different levels

The collaboration tools reported primarily focus on the national or river (sub)basin level. In the countries studied, river basin management committees and sub-basin committees are reported to be successful bridging mechanisms between different sectors although the involvement of different sectors (e.g. agriculture, retail) can be difficult.

Multi-sectoral conferences and workshops, inter-agency programming for specific issues, information sharing with the agri-food-industry and guidance on best practices came forward as successful instruments for horizontal collaboration. Yet they all focus on the national or river basin level. At local or regional level, competing interests between different sectors manifest themselves more explicitly, while decisions need to be made on actual measures at these local scales. Similar experiences regarding collaboration at different levels and scales have been described for other countries or regions (Andersson, Petersson et al. 2012, Blackstock, Waylen et al. 2014).

4. Mode of implementation and attainment of objectives at local level

Individual countries have opted for their own strategies to facilitate the implementation of EU directives across levels and scales. Various authors describe the differences in the mode of implementation between countries and the effects this may have on achieving policy objectives (Keessen, Van Kempen et al. 2010, Giakoumis and Voulvoulis 2018). These studies however, have often taken a sectoral perspective rather than a systemic one.

Most of the instruments reported in this study can also be characterised as sectoral approaches that originated from individual directives which developed along parallel tracks. This implies that, at local level, these sectoral approaches have to all be put into practice together in order to achieve coherency and to be effective in the achievement of water quality objectives. This observation suggests that conditions of governance regarding, for instance, capacity, authority, instruments and means for all sectors at stake, need to be in place at local level if this is to be achieved (Wuijts, Driessen et al. 2017). For several countries, a lack of funding for local collaboration was reported as one of the obstacles.

For the countries studied, the designation of safeguard zones around drinking water resources was frequently mentioned as a successful instrument for protection, yet requires coherence in the implementation of the different relevant directives in most of the countries studied. How this coherence could be achieved might be different for different institutional levels. Buijze (2015) concludes that generic rules do not function well under all circumstances, and at all levels and scales, whereas instrumental rules are not necessarily problematic and sometimes essential, for instance, in the allocation of roles and responsibilities. Citizen engagement was reported by several countries as an important driver for environmental protection policy.

5. Reflections on the analysis

The case studies used for this research focus on water quality issues raised by the use of nitrates and pesticides originating from agricultural emissions and leaching. However, emerging contaminants from agricultural practices (e.g. veterinary pharmaceuticals, antibiotic resistant bacteria, zoonoses) are relevant threats to the quality of drinking water resources as well. To include these in the analysis would require an additional assessment of other EU Directives such as the Community Code relating to veterinary medicinal products (2001/82/EC) and related directives. This could be an interesting avenue for future research.

The analytical framework used for this study (OECD 2015) facilitates an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of a governance approach. The framework identifies twelve principles within three dimensions, i.e. effectiveness, efficiency and trust and engagement (see Table 2). The structure of the framework suggests that there is a clear division between the three dimensions which would allow for a separate analysis of the principles related to one dimension. As the central question for our study was to explore the effectiveness of EU regulations on the local restoration and protection of drinking water resources from agricultural pollution, our initial proposition was to study the principles related to the ‘effectiveness’-dimension. However, the initial data showed that the interlinked principles from the other dimensions had to be taken into account as well. For this reason, the questionnaires were followed up by interviews where additional questions focusing on these other principles were put. The questionnaires developed for this study may also be used to offer guidance on the use of the framework.

The methodology used for data collection involves the risk of a potential bias in the results. Information not provided by an interviewee could be lacking in the analysis. The checks and balances included in the process of data analysis proved to be of added-value in increasing the quality of the data. Scientific literature to date has only described a few examples of local-regional experiences, but other, more sectoral studies on national implementation (Kastens and Newig 2007, Keessen, Runhaar et al. 2011, Voulvoulis, Arpon et al. 2017), show similarities in the results from the questions on national implementation. The results provide an impression of experiences gained on the protection of drinking water resources from agricultural pollution throughout Europe. These insights could be established in greater detail if complementary case studies were made.



For full references to papers quoted in this article see


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