, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp 9-14
Date: 10 Oct 2005

The Evolution of the Environmental Quality Concept: From the US EPA Red Book to the European Water Framework Directive

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1065/espr2006.01.003


Water Quality Criteria were firstly defined in the 1970s by the EPA in the USA and the EIFAC in Europe, recognizing the need for protecting water quality in order to allow the use of water resources by man. In the 1990s, the European Commission emphasized the importance of safeguarding structure and function of biologic communities. These approaches were chemically-based. The European Water Framework Directive (WFD) substantially changes the concept of Water Quality, by assuming that a water body needs to be protected as an environmental good and not as a resource to be exploited. In this frame, the biological-ecological quality assumes a prevailing role.

Main Features

The Water Quality concept introduced by the WFD is a challenge for environmental sciences. Reference conditions should be defined for different typologies of water bodies and for different European ecoregions. Suitable indicators should be developed in order to quantify ecological status and to define what a 'good' ecological status is. Procedures should be developed for correlating the deviation from a good ecological to the effects of multiple stressors on function and structure of the ecosystem. The protection of biodiversity becomes a key objective. In this frame, the traditional procedures for ecotoxicological risk assessment, mainly based on laboratory testing, should be overcome by more site-specific approaches, taking into account the characteristics and the homeostatic capabilities of natural communities. In the paper an overview of the present knowledge and of the new trends in ecotoxicology to get these objectives will be given. A procedure is suggested based on the concept of Species Sensitivity Distribution (SSD).

Recommendations and Perspective

. The need for more site-specific and ecologically-oriented approaches in ecotoxicology is strongly recommended. The development of new tools for implementing the concept of 'Stress Ecology' has been recently proposed by van Straalen (2003). In the same time, more 'cological realism'is needed in practically applicable procedures for regulatory purposes.