Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

Developing environmental standards for abstractions from UK rivers to implement the EU water framework directive

Noble, Richard; Acreman, Mike; Cowx, Ian; Dunbar, Michael; Hannaford, Jamie; Mountford, Owen; Wood, Paul; Holmes, Nigel; Cowx, Ian; Noble, Richard; Extence, Chris; Aldrick, John; King, Jackie; Black, Andrew; Crookall, David


Mike Acreman

Ian Cowx

Michael Dunbar

Jamie Hannaford

Owen Mountford

Paul Wood

Nigel Holmes

Ian Cowx

Chris Extence

John Aldrick

Jackie King

Andrew Black

David Crookall


Under the European Union Water Framework Directive, Member States must put in place a river basin planning framework to determine what measures are necessary to maintain and improve the ecological status for all surface water bodies. The governmental organisations legally responsible for implementing the Directive in the UK have recognised that an appropriate river flow regime is fundamental to maintain a healthy river and, as a result, they need to regulate abstractions and effluent discharges and ensure sufficient water is released from impoundments. This paper reports on the process of producing environmental standards that define the maximum abstraction allowable from UK rivers, to leave sufficient flow to maintain a healthy river ecosystem. As there are currently insufficient data available to determine the relationships between river flow and ecological status empirically, expert knowledge was captured through a series of workshops at which leading UK freshwater scientists defined maximum levels of river flow regime alteration that would achieve ecological objectives for different river water body types. For the least ecologically sensitive rivers, maximum abstractions in the range 15-35% of the natural flow were proposed, depending on the flow magnitude and time of year. For the most sensitive rivers, the maximum abstraction proposed was in the range 7.5-25%. The knowledge was used by the responsible UK authorities to develop environmental standards. The authorities subsequently used the environmental standards to determine regulatory standards that could be implemented within practical constraints and current licensing policies.


Acreman, M., Dunbar, M., Hannaford, J., Mountford, O., Wood, P., Holmes, N., …Crookall, D. (2008). Developing environmental standards for abstractions from UK rivers to implement the EU water framework directive. Hydrological Sciences Journal, 53(6), 1105 - 1120.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 27, 2008
Online Publication Date Jan 18, 2010
Publication Date Jan 1, 2008
Print ISSN 0262-6667
Publisher Taylor & Francis
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 53
Issue 6
Pages 1105 - 1120
Keywords Water Framework Directive; Environmental standards; Abstraction management; Rivers; Expert panel; Environmental flows; Ecohydrology; Hydro-ecology
Public URL
Publisher URL