EU water directive could restrict pesticide use

Professionals say self-regulation must remain when the EU directive is implemented, says Magda Ibrahim.

The first River Basin Management Plans will be submitted to the Government by the Environment Agency in less than two weeks.

When the plans reach publication in December, they could have wide-reaching consequences for those using pesticides. According to experts, these could include "draconian measures" such as large buffer zones around water bodies or even prohibition of the use of pesticides in Water Protection Zones.

As part of the Water Framework Directive (WFD), the management plans must help achieve significant improvements in water quality by 2015.

It is perhaps some comfort to those using pesticides for production or amenity use that the industry - through the Voluntary Initiative - has agreed a partnership with the Environment Agency to implement that aspect of the WFD (HW, 4 September).

But with so many uncertainties still surrounding the WFD, the extent of the impact on growers and other pesticides users is largely unknown.

Voluntary measures

According to NFU plant health adviser Paul Chambers, it is essential for the industry that voluntary measures for meeting water standards are retained, rather than any move towards a more regulatory approach.

"We are still at an in-between stage on the WFD until we know what is happening with things like Water Protection Zones and the River Basin Management Plans," he explained.

"But voluntary measures should be the first option in helping to meet any problems with pesticides in water.

"There are a whole host of measures that could be introduced, ranging from voluntary approaches and going all the way up to draconian measures like huge buffer zones or prohibition of the use of pesticides in Water Protection Zones.

"That is really the last resort and what we want to avoid."

The River Basin Management Plans will cover 11 river basin districts and will set out the issues in each area and the measures that are needed.

Raising the bar

Although the UK already has its own standards for measuring water quality and levels of pesticides, the WFD is raising the bar.

Under the current system of measurement, the General Quality Assessment shows that 70 per cent of the rivers in England and Wales are achieving a good standard.

However, under the new WFD classification system this figure falls to 23 per cent of water bodies.

Chambers says: "Because the whole process is new, people don't know what is required."

Fortunately, despite the directive requiring water bodies to meet its standards by 2015, there is some room for movement. Where it is not feasible to achieve the objectives by 2015, the directive allows member states to work on a longer timescale to 2021 or 2027.

According to Environment Agency pesticides policy adviser Jo Kennedy, the key aspect for pesticides users is whether a substance meets set Environmental Quality Standards (EQS).

Although amenity herbicide glyphosate has not been subject to an EQS in the past, Kennedy said it is a candidate for regulation in the future, along with carbendazim and chlorothalonil.

That is down to the fact that diuron's exclusion from the market means that glyphosate use, and potential concentration in water, could increase.

"There will be extra scrutiny on glyphosate," Kennedy admitted.

Compounding problems

It is an increasing worry for amenity users, who are still reeling from the European Parliament's passing of the Sustainable Use Directive in January, alongside the Placing of Plant Protection Products on the Market Regulation.

Amenity Forum and BALI representative Neil Huck told HW the battering to the amenity armoury over the years meant glyphosate was a product that had become increasingly important.

"Up until late last year, the Environment Agency had never really tested for glyphosate," he explained.

"But because it's the only (herbicide) we are left with, it will increase in its concentration levels, which will cause us a problem. The WFD is compounding the Sustainable Use Directive."

Protection zones

The River Basin Management Plans will go hand in hand with Water Protection Zones, which could be designated in areas deemed to need regulatory control to reduce levels of pesticides.

However, the Environment Agency must gather extensive evidence before the secretary of state designates an area as a Water Protection Zone and thus potentially "prohibit or manage the carrying on of activities which are likely to result in damage to, or pollution of, such waters" (Defra).

HTA consultant John Adlam said the nursery sector was concerned over how the WFD's requirements might play out.

"Growers are already consciously looking at the discharges from their nurseries," he said.

"The growing fraternity in the main has already been extremely efficient."

A Water Action Plan group - which aims to integrate water protection policies in relation to plant protection products with wider policy including tackling the requirements of the WFD - will meet to discuss the plans in December.

The group will include the Chemicals Regulation Directorate, the NFU and the Environment Agency.

"The environmentalists hold quite a big sway in Europe and it is an easy win just to ban something or set regulations," warned Huck.

"But the problem is that, although the Voluntary Initiative has worked to an extent, it hasn't had enough influence and that is why we now have the Sustainable Use Directive."


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