MOOC: Auditing Water Management

3.3. Regulative instruments in legal acts

Legal acts provide instruments to regulate the relationships between the state, companies and citizens, and the exploitation of natural resources. Below is the selection of common regulative instruments used in water management.

Environmental assessments. Two EU directives require that an environmental assessment must be carried out when plans, programmes or projects are likely to have significant effects on the environment. [] [] The aim of the environmental assessment is to give the decision maker enough information to decide whether the planned activity may cause harm to the environment and to identify the measures for mitigating any hazard. Proper execution of the environmental assessment procedure ensures that all relevant effects are identified and that public and interested parties have the ability to participate in decision-making.

Legal obligations, prohibitions and delimitations. The aim of these instruments is to assure that the good quality of the water body can be maintained or achieved. Any obligations, prohibitions or delimitations in legal acts should be clear and the targeted groups must be identified (e.g. whether obligations should be followed by everyone or only permit holders).

Quality standards and emission limit values. A quality standard indicates the general status of the water body and acts as a basis for determining emission standards. Emission limit values are numeric values that must be followed by persons releasing harmful substances into water bodies. Those undertaking activities which are likely to release discharge above a certain threshold are usually required to obtain a permit. Breach of a legally set emission value is a basis for the application of administrative or criminal sanctions.

Environmental permits. The aim of a water-related permit is to regulate how much discharge the emitter is allowed to discharge into the water and under what conditions such activity may be carried out. The aim of the permit is to regulate activities in such a way that the qualitative aims of water bodies can be achieved. In more complicated cases, the issuing of a water permit may be preceded by an environmental assessment. If environmental permits are not clear enough or do not set adequate limitations, it may be difficult for the environmental surveillance organisation to identify the breach of law, or a water body might be contaminated despite the fact that the permit holder has acted according to what was allowed by the permit. In some countries, water permits are issued for individuals to be entitled to the use of groundwater.  Such permits define the maximum permissible abstraction volume and allowed uses for these quantities of water.  Furthermore, procedures may be in place for the approval of the distribution of irrigation water, to ensure that proper use is made of scarce water resources.

Administrative and criminal sanctions. Any legal obligation, prohibition or delimitation should have a corresponding sanction in case it is breached. Otherwise, the enforcement of such a norm is jeopardized. Sanctions must be clear, targeted and adequate in their deterrent effect. If sanctions are too lenient, they will not prevent a breach. It is important for an auditor to check not only if the sanctions are adequately set down in legal acts but also to see if they are adequately applied by the responsible authorities.

Environmental liability laws can fulfil a reinforcing complementary function. Environmental liability laws have the function of internalizing and recovering the costs of environmental damage through legal action. By establishing that polluters must pay for the damage they cause, environmental liability provides an incentive to control and prevent pollution. In the case of damage caused, it allows for the compensation of victims. Environmental liability is only applicable when one or a few responsible actors can be identified and is thus not suitable for addressing diffuse pollution from multiple sources.

Due process and public participation. These rules help to limit corruption, conflict of interest, the fair and equal treatment of all relevant parties and to guarantee transparency. The public participation rules guarantee that as much relevant information as possible is gathered before taking decisions and that all parties having an interest in the case will be informed and can participate and that the decisions of public administrations are explained and well founded. Due process and public participation are regulated internationally by the Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters.

SAI Austria used water quality standards to establish the audit criteria.

kaasusAUDIT CASE: Safeguarding water supply

SAI Austria’s audit focused on the supply of drinking water in the northern part of Burgenland including projects to safeguard the future water supply which concerned quality and quantity.

Audit questions

Source of criteria

Is the water quality sufficient for public supply? European and national quality standards
How is the state and quality of the groundwater, including the systems of monitoring? Legal requirements, technical standards
Where do the pollutants originate from? Do they originate mostly from agriculture? National environmental reports, reporting systems of local authorities
How is the water supply organized in the region? Good practice
Are the projects and investments managed correctly? National procurement regulations, good practice, calculation standards

The Water Services Association Burgenland North fulfilled its tasks concerning the supply of water.

The drinking water fulfilled the quality requirements laid down in the drinking water regulation. In order to guarantee compliance with this standard, it was necessary to prepare the water and mix nitrate-contaminated groundwater with less contaminated or uncontaminated water from other water sources. The limit value for drinking water of 50 mg/l was exceeded in six wells; these wells included those in the municipality of Neufeld, which encompassed more than 10% of the water demand.

The association failed to correctly estimate the value of order in the course of a procurement procedure. As a result, the value was estimated below the threshold value for direct awards. Additionally, the association did not provide for efficient means to monitor the settlement.