B3: State of the water environment

Short Description

This indicator takes a broad overview of the condition of the water environment; it relates to freshwater bodies, wetlands, groundwaters, estuaries and coastal waters. The indicator comprises several metrics including percentage of water tests meeting good (or better) status for biology and chemistry, percentage of water bodies achieving good ecological status, and compliance of waters specially protected for specific uses such as drinking water abstraction and nature conservation. ‘Status’ refers to quality as measured under the Water Environment (Water Framework Directive) (England and Wales) Regulations 2017 (the WFD Regulations). Some of these data relating to protected sites are also included in indicator ‘D2 Extent and condition of protected sites – land, water and sea’. All the water theme indicators are linked, but two indicators that are important to consider as part of the wider state of the water environment are ‘B4 Condition of bathing waters’ and ‘B6 Natural functions of water and wetland ecosystems’.

Readiness and links to data

This indicator is not available for reporting in 2024 in a finalised form. A revised interim indicator is presented here that was first presented in 2021. It includes metrics from the WFD Regulations status tests for:

  • Surface water bodies (rivers, lakes, estuaries and coastal waters)

  • Groundwaters

  • Waters protected for a specific reason such as drinking waters and nature sites.

For each water type, we include a representative element that is tested to assess the condition of a water body, reflecting water quality and/or hydromorphology (the physical character and water content in water bodies). There are many more elements assessed, and tests undertaken; the data represent a snapshot of the complete WFD Regulations dataset. There are no new WFD regulations assessments included in the 2024 report.

Supporting detail for each of the water types and a more detailed dashboard of data are available on the updated B3 Evidence Pages. This includes detail on the Risk of Eutrophication for Estuaries and Coastal Waters. These data have been published to facilitate user involvement in the development of this indicator. We would therefore welcome any feedback on these statistics, particularly on their usefulness and value, via 25YEPindicators@defra.gov.uk.

Further work is required to develop the indicator to show change over time. We will continue to work with partners to develop our approach for future reporting. Data and evidence will begin to come from different sources as Environment Agency monitoring networks are updated as part of the Natural Capital Ecosystem Assessment development. Piloting and rollout of new networks has begun. Data will start to feed into indicator reporting as soon as it is ready. Existing source data are currently published (WFD element status , protected area data, State of the environment and the water quality report). Water body level status results are available on the Catchment Data Explorer.

Indicator components

Figure B3a: Status of surface waters in England, 2019

Table B3a: Status of surface waters in England, 2019

Water body Biology, at good status Biology, not at good status Ecological status, at good status Ecological status, other
All surface water bodies - - 16.00 84.00
Coastal waters: Saltmarsh 50.00 50.00 - -
Estuaries: Saltmarsh 36.00 64.00 - -
Lakes: Phytoplankton 52.00 48.00 - -
Rivers: Invertebrates 76.00 24.00 - -
Rivers: Plants & algae 45.00 55.00 - -

Trend description for B3a

In total, 16% of surface water bodies met all the relevant criteria for good ecological status of the WFD Regulations in 2019. For rivers; invertebrates and the combined test for macrophytes and phytobenthos (plants and algae) are reported to indicate biological quality, where 76% and 45% of tests carried out passed for the water bodies assessed, respectively. For lakes, the representative biological element shown is phytoplankton with 52% of water bodies assessed passing. For estuaries and coastal waters, saltmarshes are used to reflect the extent and quality of habitat; results show 36% and 50% of water bodies monitored pass the test, respectively.

Assessment of change

No assessment of change was undertaken for this indicator as a suitable time series is not yet available in the Outcome Indicator Framework.

Figure B3b: Status of groundwaters in England, 2019 or 2022

Table B3b: Status of groundwaters in England, 2019 or 2022

Variable At good status Not at good status
Water quality (2019) 45 55
Water quantity (2022) 73 27

Trend description for B3b

In 2022, 73% of groundwaters passed water quantity tests. In 2019, 45% passed chemical (water quality) tests.

Assessment of change

No assessment of change was undertaken for this indicator as a suitable time series is not yet available in the Outcome Indicator Framework.

Figure B3c: Status of waters specially protected for specific uses in England, 2019 or 2022

Table B3c: Status of waters specially protected for specific uses in England, 2019 or 2022

Site Condition of SSSI units underpinning European protected water and wetland sites, favourable Condition of SSSI units underpinning European protected water and wetland sites, other Condition of SSSI units underpinning European protected water and wetland sites, unfavourable recovering Drinking water protected areas, at risk Drinking water protected areas, not at risk
Groundwater (2019) - - - 47.00 53.00
Protected wildlife sites (2022) 45.10 11.80 43.10 - -
Surface water (2022) - - - 53.00 47.00

Trend description for B3c

In 2019 (groundwater) and 2022 (surface water), 53% of groundwater and 47% of surface water areas (sites) protected for drinking water abstraction were assessed as not being at risk of deterioration. For protected nature sites, 45% were in favourable condition and 43% were in an unfavourable but recovering condition in 2022.

Assessment of change

No assessment of change was undertaken for this indicator as a suitable time series is not yet available in the Outcome Indicator Framework.

Indicator Metadata