Water resources and water quality

This page is currently under review and the content will be updated shortly.

Water resources may be taken to mean water contained in sources of supply (inland waters or underground strata in which water is or may be contained). The water resources side involves law on the conservation, collection, preparation, use and disposal of water to support human uses and protect environmental quality. It includes the control of water pollution and the protection and enhancement of water quality. It is generally devolved and falls under the responsibility of the Welsh Government.

Drinking Water Inspectorate

The Drinking Water Inspectorate provides independent reassurance that water supplies in England and Wales are safe. Its main job is to check water companies supply safe drinking water that is acceptable to consumers and meets the standards set down in law. The legal standards for Drinking Water come directly from European law. The Welsh Ministers appoint the Chief Inspector for Drinking Water.
EU obligations in relation to water.

There is a considerable amount of EU legislation in the area of water quality. The European Commission website contains more information on EU law and the impact of EU Withdrawal.

Water Framework Directive

The purpose of the Directive is to establish a framework for the protection of inland surface waters (rivers and lakes), transitional waters (estuaries), coastal waters and groundwater. The Directive requires the establishment of river basin districts, and for each of these a river basin management plan which will include objectives and measures to be followed for the districts.

The Directive is given effect in Wales mainly through the Water Environment (Water Framework Directive) (England and Wales) Regulations 2017, which place various functions and duties on Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and the Welsh Government. In relation to cross-border areas such as the Wye Basin, there are joint obligations on NRW and the Environment Agency, and the Welsh and UK Governments.

The Water Framework Directive is complemented by other directives regulating the water environment. These include the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive and the Nitrates Directive, both adopted in 1991, and the Bathing Waters Directive, revised in 2006.

Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive

This Directive requires the collection and treatment of urban waste water. The aim is to protect the environment from the adverse effects of urban waste water discharges and discharges from certain industrial sectors. The Directive is given effect in Wales through the Urban Waste Water Treatment (England and Wales) Regulations 1994.

Nitrates Directive

This Directive requires the identification of waters polluted, or at risk of pollution, by nitrates and the designation of nitrate vulnerable zones, where action programmes are implemented to control pollution. The aim is to protect water quality by preventing nitrates from agricultural sources polluting ground and surface waters and by promoting the use of good farming practices. The Directive is given effect in Wales through the Nitrate Pollution Prevention (Wales) Regulations 2013.

Bathing Waters Directive

The Bathing Water Directive requires Members States to monitor and assess bathing water quality. In addition, Member States must inform the public about bathing water quality and beach management, through so-called bathing water profiles. The aim of the directive is to protect human health and water quality. The Directive is given effect in Wales through the Bathing Water Regulations 2013.

Drinking Water Directive

This Directive concerns the quality of water intended for human consumption. Its objective is to protect human health from adverse effects of any contamination of water intended for human consumption by ensuring that it is wholesome and clean. The Directive is given effect in Wales through the Water Supply (Water Quality) Regulations 2018 and the Private Water Supplies (Wales) Regulations 2017.


Published on
23 March 2021
Last updated
17 June 2021