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Water-Related Tools for Climate Change Adaptation in the Flemish Region: The Art of Linking Water Quality Standards to Spatial Planning

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The Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC) establishes a framework for integrated water management and functions as a major legal frame for the protection of water bodies in Europe. In the Flemish Region the Directive has been implemented by the Decree of 18 July 2003 on Integral Water Policy. As climate change affects the quality and quantity status of water bodies, the question arises whether the Water Framework Directive (WFD) and the Flemish implementation legislation are well-suited to handle climate change impacts. Although climate change concerns are not explicitly incorporated in the text of the WFD and the Flemish Decree, this author believes that the main components for an effective adaptation strategy are included in the above mentioned legislation. More in particular, this is achieved by the environmental objectives which have to be elaborated in environmental quality standards (EQS) on the one hand, and the integrated approach on the other hand. Water quality management on the basis of a high level of protection of the aquatic environment is indispensable for adapting to climate change, as ecosystem-based adaptation is most cost-effective. Therefore spatial planning should integrate water quality concerns, as spatial planning may be critical for spatial quality and more specific for the achievement of the environmental objectives. Consequently this contribution focuses on the impact of water quality standards on permit decision-making and spatial planning. In this context some legal instruments anchored in the Flemish legislation on integral water policy will be highlighted, especially the 'watertoets' (translated as the water checkup), which may be useful to facilitate adaptation to climate change.


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