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7.6 Policy and institutional framework (Topic f)

The Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (UWWTD) of the European Union is the most important guideline on the wastewater sector for the whole of Europe in the next decade and beyond.

The UWWTD defines standards for the collection, treatment and discharges of urban wastewater and wastewater from some industrial sectors. All urban wastewater discharges greater than 10,000 p.e. to coastal waters and greater than 2,000 p.e. to fresh water and estuaries will be subject to secondary treatment by the year 2005. Furthermore, discharges from a list of industrial sectors with direct discharge (greater than 4,000 p.e.) shall also respect the above regulation.

Member States have to classify their national water bodies as sensitive, normal or less sensitive according to eutrophication effects. In sensitive areas, discharges are subject to more stringent treatment with supplementary phosphorus and /or nitrogen removal, whereas in less sensitive areas less stringent treatment than the general secondary treatment prescribed is accepted. Primary treatment is the minimum requirement in less sensitive areas.

All municipalities smaller than the lower threshold of 2,000 and 10,000 p.e. should also be subject to appropriate treatment by the year 2005. However, no specific criteria are given in the Directive. Full implementation of this directive for the 15 Member States is expected before 2010, meaning, that 95% of the total wastewater is discharged to sewers and only 29 million persons would not be connected to sewers. Most wastewater would either receive secondary treatment or secondary treatment plus nutrient removal.

Similar baseline scenarios have also been developed for the implementation of the UWWDT in AC 10. The effect of implementation will here significantly depend on the amount of sewage produced in the coming years.

Before the break-down of the political system, all transition countries had a state-controlled economy with a complex system of subsidies, taxes and monetary restrictions. Economic interests had priority over environmental protection. While ambient environmental quality standards existed (mostly too strict), there were no practical means of controlling operations to ensure their enforcement. Plants had a general obligation to meet emission limits, though no deadlines were set for compliance, or special agreements were set between the enterprises and the control agencies in order to ensure further production. The absence of a permit system meant that no plant-specific requirements were really in force. The enforcement systems relied on fines and civil penalties, which proved largely ineffective. Often, the production process, the discontinuity in delivering of material and spare parts and the use of (often out-dated) technology did not allow environmental quality standards to be met. So the large state-ruled plants planned in advance certain amounts of money to pay the state penalties. For the population drinking water supply and wastewater treatment were free of charge, so there was no interest in wise use or reuse of water. Insufficient supply including frequent water and energy cuts led to a waste of water. This is the reason why at present many transition countries have extreme difficulties in introducing taxes on water supply and wastewater treatment.

Water quality monitoring was carried out by all transition countries having a quite dense network. Laboratory analysis was mostly limited to conventional parameters (including heavy metals and pesticides). For analysing more sophisticated chemical parameters or newly developed chemicals the laboratory equipment was mostly not available.

Nowadays, in order to implement the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive of the EU, all AC 10 will ultimately have to align their water policy and legislation with that of the European Union. Most of the AC 10 are now working towards this goal, despite the fact that it will take most probably longer than one decade to reach full implementation. All transition countries have already changed or are going to review and improve their environmental legislation. However, the new legislation is at present at very different stages in each individual country and not always in line with the requirements of the UWWTD (ETC/IW, 1998).

In recent years, all Accession Countries (AC 10) introduced new laws and/or regulations on water, which are approaching the requirements of the UWWTD. Nevertheless, additional regulations, mostly on effluent quality discharged from urban WWTP, must be developed and implemented for nearly all AC as soon as possible. In several AC and in the other transition countries the responsibility for wastewater collection, treatment, disposal etc. is divided into several ministries, what makes concerted actions more difficult (i.e. Bulgaria). Quite often the structure and the content of new laws or regulations overlap or contradict other national laws. A weak co-ordination within and between national ministries and departments does not contribute to a strong enforcement of environmental laws and is one reason for ineffective penalties and taxation for pollution control in most transition countries.

Sensitive areas, as required in the Directive, have been identified by Czech Republic and Estonia (state-of-art in 1998). Several AC still lack water quality standards and classification schemes for receiving waters that are in compliance with the Directive (i.e. Estonia and Hungary). There is much more work to do in regard of Water Use Permit Regulations, and their enforcement, which is quite advanced in Czech Republic and Poland for example. In the Slovak Republic, the basic legal standards for conservation and use of water, covering also wastewater treatment plants, are still based on separate Slovak Technical Norms.

7.6.1 Estonia

The example of Estonia, one of the Accession countries, might give a short overview of the most common problems and show how this country handles them (EPR, 1996 and ETC/IW, 1998).


The Water Act of 1994 and its amendments in 1996 and 1997 provide the basic framework for the countries water legislation.

Wastewater discharge requirements were introduced by the Regulation concerning requirements on wastewater discharge to water bodies and ground of 1994 and amended by the Regulation on restriction of requirements on wastewater discharge to water bodies and ground in 1994. So all ground and surface water abstraction and discharge requires a permit delivered by the Regional Environmental Department. The permit determines the volume of water that can be used and also the amount of pollutants that can be discharged under consideration of the requirements of the Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Baltic Sea Area. Furthermore, the rate of fees for abstraction and pollution, the user has to pay are determined. Any discharges over the permissible limits the polluter has to pay five times more. Old industrial enterprises with higher pollution volumes are temporarily tolerated; new or reconstructed ones and new wastewater treatment facilities have to follow stricter rules in accordance with EU and HELCOM standards.

The requirements on wastewater discharge were complemented in 1995 by a regulation establishing pollution damage compensation rates, which set up the related economic instruments and taxation system. In 1998, a Regulation of the Government on the enforcement of requirements concerning the quality of water discharged from urban wastewater treatment plants into water bodies or introduced into soil came into force. In the same time another Regulation of the Government on the rates for pollution charges for the discharge of pollutants into water bodies, groundwater and soil was introduced.

The requirements for treated urban wastewater discharged into water bodies or introduced into soil specify requirements for collection, treatment and discharge of wastewater into water bodies and soil to protect the environment from adverse effects. Requirements for the discharged water depend on the pollution load as well as the sensitivity of the recipient.

Treatment plants which become operational later than the 1 January 1999, have to ensure the appliance of discharges to the maximum allowable concentration depending on the sensitivity of the receiving water body (6 sensitive area categories exist). here are also categories for unprotected and poorly protected groundwater areas, 2 categories for less sensitive recipients and 2 categories for moderately and well-protected groundwater (ETC/IW, 1998).

Water quality standards

At the moment, there are no national surface water quality standards or classifications to estimate the state of rivers and lakes, but they are under preparation in accordance with EU requirements.

At present, the Regional Environmental Departments are not able to efficiently implement and enforce the permit systems. They lack staff and expertise. In addition, the Environmental and Nature Protection Inspectorate, which is in charge of monitoring and controlling compliance with the permitting system at the central level, lacks the capacity and necessary co-ordination with the regional offices and the permit holders.


Ground and surface water bodies are regularly monitored and assessed. Nevertheless, because of inadequate monitoring, the database on water quality is not yet completed or fully reliable. A comprehensive monitoring and information system is under development.

Pollution load

For the pollution load (expressed in population equivalents (p.e.)) used is the organic biodegradable load (BOD7) of 60g of oxygen per day. The requirements for BOD7, COD, TSS, P tot, N tot, monophenols, diphenols, and oil products differ according to the sensitivity of the receiving area and the implementation time.

Institutional arrangements

The Ministry of Environment is responsible for developing water legislation, setting water standards, developing water resource and water use management guidelines and strategies. Furthermore it is responsible for the technical control of water supply and sewage systems and the development of regulatory measurements, drafting and control on implementation of legislation, state level co-operation projects, research, training, monitoring along with issuing and checking compliance with water permits. The Regional Environmental Departments at the county level are in charge of implementation of the water resource management policy in close co-operation with municipalities. Its duties are also the implementation of water protection and use policy; planning and protection of water resources and implementation of State control; running data systems (monitoring) of water quality and wastewater discharge on county and municipal levels; and issuing discharge permits.

Municipalities are in charge of water supply and sewage collection (implementation of State policy at local level, water use permits, treatment). The Health Service under the Ministry of Social Affairs is responsible for checking the drinking water quality.

Policy framework

The current policy for water management is a balanced system based on command and control (emission standards, permits for water use and discharges, State inspections) and on economic instruments (water use and pollution charges, threshold levels, differential charge rates, fines/subsidies, grants and soft loans).

The established water permits of the Regulation of 1994, one for abstraction and one for pollution, are set somewhat arbitrarily by environmental experts, without reference either to the economic situation or to public debate. The rates of these charges are still too low to have visible incentive effect on the consumers and polluters. These rates have to be substantially higher to fully cover investment, maintenance and operating costs. However, the payments help to fund the investments in municipal sewage and industrial wastewater treatment plants (in 1996, 50% of the pollution charge goes to the national Environmental Fund and the other half to the Regional Environmental Departments in the counties).

Estonia’s main priority today is urban sewerage and industrial wastewater treatment. Most of the 13 Estonian "hot spots" identified by HELCOM entail water investments (mostly combined industrial and municipal wastewater treatment), which are too large to be entirely financed by national funding in the short term. Several important programmes are already, or will be, implemented with the support of multilateral, subregional and bilateral institutions (much of the programmes involve upgrading (from mechanical to biological or higher) wastewater treatment plants) (EPR, 1996).


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