Title: European aquatic ecological assessment methods: a critical review of their sensitivity to key pressures
Citation: SCIENCE OF THE TOTAL ENVIRONMENT vol. 740 p. 140075
Publication Year: 2020
JRC N°: JRC119206
ISSN: 0048-9697 (online)
URI: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969720335956#s0110
DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.140075
Type: Articles in periodicals and books
Abstract: The European Union has embarked on a policy which aims to achieve good ecological status in all surface waters (i.e. rivers, lakes, transitional and coastal waters). In theory, ecological status assessment methods should address the effects of all relevant human pressures. In this study, we analyze the degree to which methods European countries use to assess ecological status tackle various pressures affecting European waters. Nutrient pollution is by far the best-covered pressure for all four water categories. Out of total of 423 assessment methods, 370 assess eutrophication and pressure-specific relationships have been demonstrated for 212 of these. “General degradation” is addressed by 238 methods, mostly validated by relationships to combined pressure indices. Other major pressures have received significantly less effort: hydromorphological degradation is assessed by 160 methods and pressure-specific relationships have been demonstrated for just 40 of these. Hydromorphological pressures are addressed (at least by one BQE) only by 25% countries for coastal waters and 70–80% for lakes and transitional waters. Specific diagnostic tools (i.e. single-pressure relationships) for hydromorphology have only been developed by a few countries: only 20% countries have such methods for lakes, coastal and transitional waters and less than half for rivers. Toxic contamination is addressed by 90 methods; however, pressure-specific relationships have been demonstrated for just eight of these. Only two countries have demonstrated pressurespecific acidification methods for rivers, and three for lakes. In summary, methods currently in use mostly address eutrophication and/or general degradation, but there is not much evidence that they reliably pick up the effects of other significant pressures such as hydromorphology or toxic contamination. Therefore, we recommend that countries re-examine: (1) those pressures which affect different water categories in the country; (2) relevant assessment methods to tackle those pressures; (3) whether pressure-response relationships have been developed for each of these.
JRC Directorate:Sustainable Resources

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