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Laws 2012, 1(1), 39-63; doi:10.3390/laws1010039
Achieving Ecological Objectives
Received: 3 April 2012; in revised form: 15 May 2012 / Accepted: 14 June 2012 / Published: 2 July 2012
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Abstract: The legal objective for surface water in the EU is ‘good ecological status’, as established by the Water Framework Directive, with a timeframe of 15, 21 or 27 years. To reach this objective, suitable legal instruments are needed, and quality standards are among the instruments intended to improve the ecological status. However, both the Directive and quality standards are founded on reductionism, risking an over-application of over-simplified concepts, probably reducing biological diversity. A realistic and more appropriate timeframe for river basin rehabilitation would be around 100 years, emphasizing several concerns, such as the importance of encompassing the entire life history of species, the shift in human perceptions, the systemic unity of humans and ecosystems, environmental irreducibility, site-specific reference points, and the divergence of the assessment of water quality and the general ecological status of a river basin. From a legal standpoint, a century emphasizes a temporal agreement and a normative commitment to the generations to come. Ecologically, a century time-scale gives enough time for the processes of evolution, dispersal and recolonization and succession to re-establish stable, more diverse biological communities in physically rehabilitated habitats and river basins, whereas the present timetable for achievement of the ecological objectives does not.
Keywords: EU water framework directive; ecological objectives; ecological quality standards; environmental quality standards, ecological standards; reductionism; holism; ecosystem management