This project was funded by the EU LIFE programme

Water and Life
Water is vital, in its quality, quantity, flow and location, to meet the needs of ecosystems. These ecosystems include us- people. People cannot be divorced from the water environment. Many of our activities, both on land and in water, impact on water. They affect its flow, its quality, its levels and its ability to support life. This life includes tremendous biodiversity – water and wetlands provide some of the most important habitats on earth. Equally, water and water related ecosystems such as wetlands, provide us with essential services – from potable water, water for agriculture, energy, flood management, recreation opportunities, filtering and waste services, fisheries and tourism.

Water and floodplain problems
Our management of water is becoming increasingly complex. Past practices have resulted in the disconnection of rivers from floodplains – with a resultant loss in biodiversity and a requirement for complex, expensive and sometimes damaging flood defense schemes. Many of our current demands are incompatible with each other. For example, we want functioning floodplains for flood management and important biodiversity, but people want to live by rivers and we need space to build houses to account for changing demographics.

Intensive agricultural practices can have detrimental impacts on water quality, quantity, and levels that damage aquatic habitats. Water companies and authorities, and thus consumers and taxpayers, must pay to clean up water, that a subsidy or bad practice has polluted. In many countries, the bureaucracy around water management is complex and convoluted. Different aspects of water are managed separately – for example, agriculture, land use planning, water abstraction, water quality, flood management, drought management, and portable water may all be managed in different ways with conflicting objectives and different spatial and temporal scales.

The Water Framework Directive and WUF
The WUF project addressed some of these aspects by focusing on the wise of floodplains in six case study catchments across France, Ireland, Scotland and England. It aimed to show how the wise use of floodplains could contribute to the sustainable management of water within river basins and catchments. It did this largely in the context of the EC Water Framework Directive – a new directive that puts ecology at the heart of water management in an integrated way.

The Directive requires Member States to address all water problems that affect water dependant ecology – and thus all water types – including groundwater, surface waters (eg rivers, lakes and smaller water bodies), and coastal waters. Wetlands are an important component of the Directive and must be taken into consideration in a number of different ways.

Member States must ‘characterise’ river basins, that is identify the water resource in each basin and assess its ‘status’. They must identify the pressures and impacts that affect water in a detrimental way. They must then set objectives for each water body, monitor these water bodies and provide a programme of measures that will restore or prevent deterioration of them – depending on the objectives that are set.

The main aim of this process is to achieve ‘good status’ for all water bodies subject to some exceptions. This work is undertaken through a river basin management plan. Very importantly, Member States have a duty to actively involve interested members of the public during this planning process. The Directive thus recognises that water is heritage that must be treated as such, that water is everybody’s business, and that decisions that affect water should not be taken by governments or scientists alone.

A driving force behind the WUF project was the growing realisation that many Member States would have problems implementing the Water Framework Directive, particularly in the context of managing floodplains more wisely. The perceived problems related to a lack of techniques for undertaking some of the required activities (eg, appraisal of floodplain management options, engaging local communities), and frustration in some countries by key players that the policy context was working against, rather than for sustainable floodplain management. The WUF was also a response to the problems associated with the unwise use of floodplains – catastrophic flood damage to people and property, the loss of floodplain wetlands, agricultural subsides exacerbating problems, eutrophication and the heavy modification of river systems.

How to use the WUF results
The WUF project was ambitious in its scope. This means that aspects of the results will be interesting for different agencies and sectors of the communities. The results are framed at different levels too. There are major technical reports that provide all the analysis for the major findings in four themes. There are also guidance notes that provide a brief explanation of the four themes, and of the 4 Area Case Studies. Where should you start and what should you read?

You might simply be interested in how to run a public participation event in a local village for a specific water issue. For this you should read the guidance note on participatory processes and then check through the technical report on the same theme. Another organisation may wish to do some hydrological modelling but not involve the public – and would therefore only be interested in the hydrological result for the WUF – the guidance note and the technical report. A community leader might be interested to learn about what happened in the Erne Catchment in Ireland during the WUF project and would simply refer to the Erne Guidance Note. A national decision maker would be interested in the results from the policy analysis - which show the top ten policy messages that should be addressed and would refer to the guidance note and the technical report.

If you are interested in particular issues or case study catchments then you should go straight to the following sections:

  Area Case Studies
  Somerset Levels and Moors
  Guidance Notes
  Overall Guidance Note
  Hydrological Impact Assessment
  Participatory Processes
  Policy Analysis
  Options Appraisal
  Hydrological Impact Assesment
  Participatory Processes
  Policy Analysis
  Options Appraisal
  Wise Use of Floodplains Powerpoint Presentation (35mb)

If you are interested in how it all fits together, or you want to undertake a similar process in your own catchment - then read on.

WUF – an integrated approach to floodplain management
The WUF project was a transnational partnership involving government departments, research organisations and non-government organisations (NGOs) in six project areas throughout England, Ireland, Scotland and France.
Five catchments were used as demonstration sites to develop and test a range of techniques from public participation through to the sustainability appraisals of floodplain management options. These site were:

  The Forth catchment in Scotland
  The international Erne catchment in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland
  The Val de Charente in south west France
  The Somerset Levels and Moors in South West England
  The Fens in Eastern England

The sixth project area in the Cherwell, England focused on methods to assess the cumulative hydrological effects of floodplain restoration.

The work done in each of the Area Case Studies ran along similar lines but was adapted to suit local needs and circumstances. Much of this work will be required under the EC Water Framework Directive although river basin managers undertaking Directive work should also refer to any guidance provided by their domestic governments or the European Commission as the requirements are broader than the scope of the WUF.

The process, facilitated by a project officer, ran as follows (this process was not necessarily linear – many tasks were interlinked and iterative)

  Mapping the catchment on GIS (geographical information system)
  Identifying key water and wetland features in the catchment
  Identifying all the players with an interest or potential interest in the floodplain
  Identifying all the strategies, plans and policies that related to activities undertaken in and around the floodplain
  Identifying the impacts and pressures on the floodplain and related water bodies
  Using participatory processes to generate sustainable floodplain management options including a vision and objectives for the catchment
  Using options appraisal to identify the potential impacts of these selected options
  Undertaking policy analysis to identify the policy and funding barriers and opportunities to each of the management options
  Selecting options and developing action plans to take the work forward where the stakeholders agreed this.

This process was a logical approach to floodplain management, which addressed issues that were local (through local community participation), national (through the policy analysis process), and international (through the policy analysis process). In an ideal world, hydrological modelling would have been undertaken as part of the options appraisal in each case study area to examine the hydrological feasibility of some of the selected management options. However, the costs of such modelling were prohibitive in terms of the scope of this project.

The outcomes
The results of the WUF project are complex and numerous. They are useful both for people wanting to undertake this kind of work on the ground, and for decision makers who are considering policy reform that affects floodplain management. You should refer to the guidance notes and the technical reports for the broad range of recommendations.

The recommendations are currently being taken forward in various ways by the WUF partner organisations. Some are being fed into guidance notes being developed by the European Commission and Member States to implement the Water Framework Directive. Some are being used to ‘lobby’ decision makers in policy areas such as planning, water quality, biodiversity, flood management, integrated catchment management and agricultural reform.

People undertaking various catchment initiatives on the ground are using the results to help shape their floodplain projects. And importantly, through not funded by WUF, work continues in some of the Area Case Studies to turn the recommendations into real action.