River water quality: our responses to your questions
Our Water Framework Directive phosphorus standards in rivers are set in legislation by Welsh Government and follow the most recent and stringent phosphorus limits recommended by the UK’s Technical Advisory Group for the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD). There are no more stringent limits under the WFD that could be used. These limits were set and have been followed since 2015.
We also updated our Habitats Directive phosphorus targets in 2017 to reflect the latest Joint Nature Conservation Committee guidance. These targets are generally more stringent than WFD limits and apply to rivers which are designated as Special Areas of Conservation or SACs. The River Wye is a SAC and so these tighter targets for Phosphorous apply here.
We are currently finalising an assessment of compliance of the phosphorus data we hold against these new targets for all SAC rivers in Wales. Once these are concluded, we will then be able to better understand the advice that we need to give other stakeholders to make sure that we can meet our legal responsibilities.
During a stakeholder meeting, we said that the initial investigations suggest that the nutrient levels on parts of the Wye will exceed the new Habitats Directive targets. This reflects our adoption of tighter standards in the 2017 SAC management plan and is not evidence of a decline in water quality. Our compliance assessment will assist NRW and partner organisations with their decision making in relation to the management of river quality.
Rivers are the lifeblood of Wales and we are committed to reaching the highest standards of river health. We know that there is a great deal of work yet to be done and we will work with our partners across all sectors to achieve this.