Climate Law - Revision of the Water Protection Ordinance

ESG, Climate Law

The aim of Swiss water protection law is to protect all waters from adverse impacts. It should be possible to obtain safe drinking water from waters used or intended for drinking water production without costly treatment, and the aquatic life typical of the site should not be adversely affected. Accordingly, the water quality of all water bodies must be as close to nature as possible.


General provisions

The Water Protection Act of 24 January 1991 (GSchG, SR 814.20) lays down the general duty of care (Art. 3 GSchG) and the general prohibition of pollution (Art. 6 GSchG). These articles are intended to ensure that water pollution does not occur in the first place. Any direct or indirect discharge of substances that may contaminate water bodies is prohibited (Art. 6 para. 1 GSchG). Likewise, the water quality requirements set out in Annex 2 of the Water Protection Ordinance of 28 October 1998 (GSchV, SR 814.201) must be complied with. However, the cited articles do not only require compliance with these requirements. Even if, for example, the numerical requirements expressed as concrete values are met in the water body, the reasonable must be taken to avoid or minimise pollution (cf. Federal Supreme Court ruling 1C_43/2007 of 9 April 2008, E.2.2).


Specific requirements

If a water body is used or intended for the abstraction of drinking water, additional water quality requirements apply. The water of surface waters must meet the requirements of food legislation after appropriate treatment processes have been applied (Anh. 2 Ziff.11 Abs. 1 Bst. c GSchV). In groundwater used as drinking water, no organic pesticide may exceed the numerical requirement for each individual substance (Annex 2 No. 22 para. 2 Table No. 11 GSchV). If water from an above-ground water body infiltrates into groundwater, it must not contaminate the groundwater (Annex 2 No. 11 para. 1 let. d GSchV). If this happens nevertheless, there is also an impermissible contamination of the surface water.


Relationship to European law

Since 2000, Directive 2000/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2000 establishing a framework for Community action in the field of water policy (Water Framework Directive, WFD) has been in force in the EU. No obligations arise for Switzerland from the WFD. The changes that come into force in the revised Ordinance on Water Protection follow the same thrust as the WFD.


Implementation of the revised Water Protection Ordinance

The enforcement of water quality requirements is the responsibility of the cantons. If a canton discovers that numerical requirements have been exceeded, it is obliged to clarify the causes and to order measures to improve water quality. This procedure corresponds to the current legal regulations. Substances with new numerical requirements are already being measured by many cantons.

The ESG team is at your disposal for any questions regarding the revised Water Protection Ordinance or general water protection issues.

May 2020 | Authors: Dr. Martin Eckert, Karl Fässler

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