UK condemned over EU water pollution law

European Court of Justice delivers yet another ruling on 1991 nitrates directive

The UK was today condemned in the European Court of Justice for failing to properly comply with the EU's 1991 directive on water pollution by nitrates from farming. The nitrates directive is one of the most poorly implemented of all EU environmental laws, with the situation in 13 out of 15 member states recently described as "extremely unsatisfactory" (ENDS Daily 23 November).

Launched in early 1999, today's judgement confirms a European Commission complaint that the UK had interpreted the directive too narrowly (ENDS Daily 25 January 1999). Whereas it requires member states to identify all surface or groundwaters polluted by nitrates or at risk of being so, and to designate any such areas as "nitrate vulnerable zones," the UK had only identified surface and groundwaters used as sources of drinking water.

Under the directive, nitrate vulnerable zones should have been identified and designated by December 1993. EU member states should have prepared action programmes for controlling pollution in nitrate vulnerable zones by December 1995.

In court, the UK accepted the Commission's complaint, and during the case announced steps to broaden its definition of waters to include all surface and groundwaters (see link below). This process is still underway, according to the UK environment ministry, and a substantial increase in the area of land designated as nitrate vulnerable is expected next year.

Follow Up:
European Court of Justice, tel: +352 43031, and judgement in case C-69/99. See also UK nitrates policy press notice of 2 December 1999 (relating to England only).

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