Surface Water Quality Monitoring in Transition from Detecting Problems to Supporting Water Quality Management and Implementation of EU Water Framework Directive – Example of Serbia

Prvoslav Marjanović1, Dragica Vulić1, Lazar Ignjatović1, Marko Marjanović1, Dušan Kostić1

1 Institute for the Development of Water Resources „Jaroslav Černi“, Belgrade, Republic of Serbia; E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it



This paper looks at the current practice of surface water quality monitoring in the Republic of Serbia and compares it to the requirements for monitoring which are function of effective water resources management and implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive. The paper considers the process of optimising surface water quality monitoring systems at national level and applies it to develop a proposed network for surface water quality monitoring in the Republic of Serbia.

Keywords: Water Quality Monitoring, Water Framework Directive, Republic of Serbia, Water Quality, Optimization.



Surface water quality monitoring in Serbia has a long history and in one way or manner has been a part of the states activities as far back as 1960s. Throughout its history the monitoring practice has evolved and was extended over time until 2012 both in terms of the number of stations and number of parameters being monitored. Throughout this time institutionally surface water quality monitoring was linked to the Ministry responsible for water resources management and more recently also to the Ministry responsible for environmental protection.

Currently surface water quality monitoring is institutionally located in the Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) and annual monitoring programs are adopted by national government based on the proposal from the Ministries responsible for Water resources and Environmental protection.

Since the passage of the new Water Act in 2010 activities have been initiated to introduce into the monitoring program the requirements of the EU Water Framework Directive but this process has not been completed as yet and the changes introduced relate only to the list of parameters that are being monitored while the number of stations on which surface water quality is monitored has been under permanent decline since 2011. Part of the reason for the decline of the number of stations at which surface water quality is carried out is the lack of capacity (human resources, technical equipment and similar) at the responsible institution but the determining factor in this decline have been significant cuts in budget allocation for this important activity due to difficult economic times in Serbia.

The authors of this paper however believe that the main reason for the decline of surface water quality monitoring activities in Serbia has been the lack of the systems approach to surface water quality monitoring as such and integration of the needs of surface water quality user data needs and real understanding of the data requirements for sound and effective surface water quality management and implications for surface water quality monitoring stemming from the transposition of EU WFD and other daughter Directives.

This paper examines the recent situation in surface water quality management in Serbia and considers the requirements for data and information for effective surface water quality management in light of the current legislation in Serbia and the requirements of EU Directives and considering this and taking the systems view of surface water quality monitoring proposes the main characteristics of the future surface water quality monitoring in Serbia.


Existing Surface Water Quality Monitoring Practice in Serbia

The evolution of surface water quality monitoring in Serbia is shown in Figure 1 for the period from 2007 to 2016. As can be seen from the figure the number of stations on which monitoring is carried out every year has declined from more than 130 stations in the period from 2007 to 2011 to only 86 stations in 2015.

Monitoring frequency is 12 times per year for streams and rivers and once to three times per year for lakes and reservoirs. Of the 493 surface water bodies delineated in Serbia only about 100 water bodies have been monitored historically where as only 76 water bodies have been monitored in 2016. The list of monitoring parameters has changed significantly since 2011 due to introduction of new parameters as a result of the new Water Act from 2010 and accompanying regulations issued on the basis of this act. The focus of the current list of WQ parameters is on the parameters needed for the determination of the ecological and chemical status of water bodies and this list has been largely aligned with the requirements of EU Directives. Those interested in the details can find relevant parameter lists in the regulations available publicly.

Activities are currently in place in Serbia to delineate additional water bodies for streams and rivers with catchments larger than 10 km2 (As per the requirements of the EU WFD). This shall be followed with a significant extension of the monitoring network to somehow cover all the water bodies in Serbia but this will also require appropriate change of existing regulations and further changes and amendments to the Water Act. It is estimated by experts that the there will be in excess of 2000 new water bodies whose water quality needs to be accessed and that in excess of 1200 surface water quality monitoring stations would be required to be able to carry out such surface water quality assessment and evaluation of the status of water bodies.


Figure 1: Evolution of the surface water quality station network from 2007 to 2016 in Serbia (Source of data: Annual Water Quality Monitoring Reports published by institutions responsible for monitoring).


Figure 2 shows typical results of analysis of historical surface water quality monitoring data for the concentration of Nitrates and TOC in surface waters in Serbia demonstrating the effect of the number of stations on our ability to reach conclusions of the state of surface water quality on a national scale based on these results. Maps such as the ones shown in Figure 2 have been prepared for all the monitored parameters and similar conclusions can be drawn. As expected our ability to quantify and understand the problem of surface water quality in Serbia is fundamentally dependant on the number of stations at which monitoring is carried out justifying significant increase in the number of stations to be monitored.

In Figure 3 this is further demonstrated using data from 2010. Similar patterns emerge for most of the other parameters monitored. It is highly interested to note that the number of stations has been reduced by eliminating many of the stations with higher concentrations (bad water quality) from the annual monitoring programs so that when only annual data is considered the water quality situation in Serbia is improving over time when in fact the opposite is probably true at many places. It is our understanding that justification for this is the fact that we know where situation is bad already and that in the absence of corrective measures to control pollution we can save funds by not monitoring water quality at those stations regulary. However the result of such a logic is also the loss of our ability to evaluate the effects of measures that have been implemented as well as the ability to analyse the rate of recovery of polluted systems or the trend of accelerated degradation etc. The professional civil servants are aware of the problems and understand the situation but unfortunately have not been able to convince the decision makers to allocate adequate budgets to surface water quality monitoring and in so doing prevent the loss of the ability of monitoring data and information extracted from it to provide support for appropriate decision making and development and planning of adequate pollution control measures.

The authors of this paper hope that the time has come for serious reconsideration of surface water quality budget allocation and creation of capacity to meet the obvious data and information needs in the years ahead.

In light of the above in the next section of the paper and for the benefit of all concerned we present the systems view to surface water quality monitoring at a national scale based on extensive literature review we carried out for this purpose in an intent to give our contribution to future deliberations on reconstructing the current surface water quality monitoring system in Serbia. We note that there is a wide body of literature covering the topic all pointing to the need for the systems approach which includes not only the number of stations and lists of parameters to be monitored but also such aspects as quality control, decision support value and reporting and learning support.


Figure 2: Example of monitoring results for surface water quality monitoring in Serbia.


Figure 3: Impact of the number of monitoring stations on our ability to detect water quality problems over a given territory.


Key Aspects of the Future Surface Water Quality Monitoring in Serbia

Key feature of any national surface water quality monitoring system is its supporting role to water resources management. This being the case monitoring objectives (Why?) are required to support water resources management functions and the monitoring system design (What, where and how?) has to meet these objectives (Figure 4). The system design specifies how is monitoring to be carried out and also in many ways determines how data is to be analysed and interpreted. On the other hand water resources management functions impose reporting and analyses and interpretation needs as is shown in Figure 4.

Development of surface water quality monitoring system therefore starts with analyses of the water resources management functions and water quality data and information needs needed to support these functions. This is summarised in Figure 5. which also includes specific monitoring requirements resulting from EU WFD. Specific surface water quality requirements resulting from EU WFD are summarised in Figure 6 as are the links of these requirements with requirements of other data and information users within the water resources management sector.

Each of the 5 steps shown in Figure 4 requires systematic and thorough process of implementation and different, largely similar, methodologies for this purpose are available in literature. Common to these is an optimization process in relation to WQ management which requiers revision of the objectives but also partnerships with the professional fraternity and data and information exchange between stakeholders (which also includes neighbouring states). These relations are shown in Figure 6.

Methodology typically used for the determination of the objectives of the surface water quality monitoring system is shown in Figure 7.

Once the objectives of the monitoring system have been defined and specified it is possible to design the whole monitoring system. The system design needs to consider the following:

  • Decisions to be made during the design stage (Figure 8)
  • Field and lab analyses and measurements (Figures 9, 10)
  • List of parameters to be monitored (Figure 11)
  • Data analysis and interpretation (Figure 12), and
  • Reporting and informing (Figure 13)

Each of the above points has to be structured and should contain a set of basic requirements and tasks as is shown on the mentioned figures. The system is indeed very complex and interwoven. Some aspects of the system design are often written in Law and Regulations (for example regulations often contain lists of parameters to be monitored), some are mostly a part of the standard procedures and requirements (such as are the requirements for the certification of analytical laboratories or standards for standard methods for water quality analyses) an in the design stage of the monitoring system these standards, procedures and legal requirements have to be taken into consideration. Other aspects (e.g. frequency of sampling and criteria for selection of the location of monitoring stations) are often left undefined or are subject to guidance documents in the form of minimum requirements issued by responsible institutions (for example guidance for the frequency of surface water quality monitoring as a part of the common implementation strategy for the EU Water Framework Directive and variants there off (Table 1).


Figure 4: Systems view of the surface water quality monitoring.


Figure 5: Data and information needs supporting water resources management at the national level.


Figure 6: Water quality requirements as specified in the EU WFD.


Figure 7: System level optimization methodology.


It is interesting to note that it is often the case that laws and regulations as well as specific required guidelines often preclude system level optimization since system level analyses are typically not a part of the process of development of laws and regulations and standards and guidelines often represent a compromise solution rather than an optimal design. Having said this it is never the less important to consider in the system design stage as this could often indicate weak points in the whole system and could lead to an initiative to change laws and regulations and thus improve the whole system. This is especially relevant for defining a list of parameters to be monitored and to procedures needed for an efficient system for data analyses and interpretation and for reporting.

We specifically draw readers attention to the methodology for selection of parameters given in figure 11 which leaves a lot to be desired in many of the existing WQ monitoring systems throughout the world. We believe that this is a part of the system design where optimization can lead to biggest economic savings in the implementation of the surface water quality monitoring system. Unfortunately implementation of this methodology is not possible within current legal framework in Serbia and most EU countries.




Figure 8: Methodology for establishing the objectives of surface water quality monitoring system.


Figure 9: Decisions to be made during monitoring system design.


Figure 10: Factors to consider for field sampling and measurement.


Figure 11: Factors to consider for laboratory measurements.


Figure 12: Suggested methodology for the selection of water quality parameters.


Figure 13. Methodology for reporting.


Proposal for Future Surface Water Quality Monitoring in Serbia

The authors of this paper have analysed the situation in Serbia in detail and using the concepts and approach specified in the previous section have come up with a proposal for the network of surface water quality monitoring stations in Serbia which would meet all the requirements (or most of them) of current legal framework and the EU WFD.

In this process we have identified the need for the revision of the methodology for the delineation of water bodies in Serbia and grouping of water bodies in a manner that will give us adequate resolution of WQ data while reducing the number of stations to meaningful and "affordable" manner. The proposed network is not the system design. It is rather the first step into the overall existing system redesign taking into consideration many factors not discussed in this paper and is intended to be used as a "straw dog" document for further elaboration within the stakeholder community.

The proposed network consists of 4 categories of monitoring stations:

  1. Surveillance monitoring stations
  2. Level 1 operational monitoring stations
  3. Level 2 operational monitoring stations, and
  4. Investigative monitoring stations

At this point in time we have stayed with the legally specified lists of parameters but this we believe should also be revised.

The proposed network is shown in Figure 14. (excluding investigative monitoring which is yet to be considered).

The estimated cost of implementation for such a system is about 4.6 million euros per year and it is estimated that such a system would require at least 5 years for implementation.


Conclusions and Recommendations

Establishing effective and optimal surface water quality monitoring system is a complex and difficult task, especially so if it has to meet multiple objectives of many different stakeholders. It requires a structured and guided process and significant resources to yield desirable results.

Republic of Serbia faces a big challenge to develop and implement a system which would meet the requirements of the EU WFD and a lot of effort by many stakeholders is needed in the near future to reach the set goals.

Adequate resourcing for surface water quality monitoring is absolute prerequisite for success (budget, human resources, equipment etc).


Figure 14: Proposed surface water quality monitoring network for Serbia (excludes lakes and reservoirs).



The authors wish to acknowledge Republic of Serbia Water Directorate which has funded the work partially summarised in this paper. We also wish to thank numerous colleagues which we have discussed some of the thoughts presented both in private and public forums. Without their input we would have not seen all the complexities involved.



The conclusions and recommendations made in this paper and opinions expressed are owned by the authors of the paper and in no way express official position of our employer Institute "Jaroslav Černi" nor do they represent the views of the Republic of Serbia Directorate of Water.



Allan I.L., Mills G.A., Vrana B., Knutsson J., Holmberg A., Guigues N., Laschi S., Fouillac A.M. and R. Greenwood (2006). Strategic monitoring for the European Water Framework Directive. In Trends in Analytical Chemistry, 25 (7), pp. 604-715.

ASTWMO (Association of State and Territorial Solid Waste Management Officials) (2009): Framework for Long-Term Monitoring of Hazardous Substances at Sediment Sites.

Beveridge D., St-Hilaire A., Ouarda TB, Khalil B., Conly F.M., Wassenaar L.I., and E. Ritson-Bennett (2012): A geostatistical approach to optimize water quality monitoring networks in large lakes. Application to Lake Winnipeg. In Journal of Great Lakes Research 38, pp. 174–182.

CCME (Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment) (2006): A Canada-Wide Framework for Water Quality Monitoring. 29 pp.

CCME (Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment) (2011): Selected tools to evaluate water monitoring networks for climate change adaptation. 164 pp.

Cetinkaya C.P. and N.B. Harmancioǧlu (2012): Assessment of Water Quality Sampling Sites by a Dynamic Programming Approach. In Journal of Hydrologic Engineering 17, pp. 305–317.

Chapman D. (1996): Water Quality Assessments. A Guide to the Use of Biota, Sediments and Water in Environmental Monitoring. 2nd edition. Chapman & Hall, London.

Clark, M.J.R, MacDonald D.D., Whitfield P.H. and M.P. Wong (2010): Designing monitoring programs for water quality based on experience in Canada II. Characterization of problems and data-quality objectives. In Trends in Analytical Chemistry 29 (5), pp. 385–398.

Coordinated Aquatic Monitoring Program (2013). Retrieved from

Duncan J. and L. Duncan. (2010). Citizen Science and Cabin. Columbia Basin Water Quality Network, Kimberley, BC. National CABIN Science Forum Proceedings, Vancouver Convention Centre.

EC (European Communities) (2003): Common Implementation Strategy for the water framework directive (2000/60/EC), Guidance Document No 7. Monitoring under the Water Framework Directive. Policy Summary to Guidance No. 7. With assistance of Produced by Working Group 2.7 - Monitoring. 160 pp.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (2006). Water Framework Directive Monitoring Programme. Prepared to meet the requirements of the EU Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC) and National Regulations implementing the Water Framework Directive, Published by the Environmental Protection Agency, Ireland, Version 1.0.

Environment Canada (EC) (2012a): A Risk-based Approach to Evaluating Surface Water Quality Sites in the Federal Water Quality Monitoring Network.

Environment Canada (EC) (2012b): Guidance Document on the sampling and preparation of contaminated soil for use in biological testing.

Ferreira J.G.; Vale C., Soares C.V., Salas F., Stacey P.E. and S.B. Bricker (2007): Monitoring of coastal and transitional waters under the E.U. Water Framework Directive. In Environ Monit Assess 135 (1-3), pp. 195–216.

Global Environment Monitoring System Water Programme (GEMS) 2005. United Nations Envronment Programme Global Environment Monitoring. Operational Guide for Data Submission

Government of Canada (2012). Environment Canada - Canadian Aquatic Biomonitoring Network (CABIN). Retrieved from

Government of Newfoundland (2012). Real time Water Quality Monitoring Program. Retrieved from

Harmancioǧlu N., Fistikoglu O., Ozkul S.D., Singh V.P. and M.N. Alpaslan (1999): Water quality monitoring network design. Water Science and Technology. Dordrecht/Boston/London: Kluwer Academic Publisher (33).

Hunt C.D., Field J., Rust S. and P. Burke. (2006): Surface Water Quality Monitoring Network Optimization. Comprehensive Report to the South Florida Water Management District. 87 pp.

Hunt C.D., Steven W. Rust and L. Sinnott (2008): Application of statistical modeling to optimize a coastal water quality monitoring program. In Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 137, pp. 505-522.

Khalil B. and Ouarda T.B. (2009): Statistical approaches used to assess and redesign surface water-quality monitoring networks. In Journal of Environmental Monitoring 11 (11), pp. 1915–1929.

Khalil B., Ouarda T.B., M.J St-Hilaire A. Chebana F. (2010): A statistical approach for the rationalization of water quality indicators in surface water quality monitoring networks. In Journal of Hydrology 386 (1-4), pp. 173–185.

Khalil, B.; Ouarda T. B., and M. J. St-Hilaire (2011): A statistical approach for the assessment and redesign of the Nile Delta drainage system water-quality-monitoring locations. In Journal of Environmental Monitoring 13 (8), p. 2910.

Laing, T. (2001): Developing Long-term Monitoring Programs that Lead to Site Closure for FCSAP Aquatic Contaminated Sites: State of Science Review and Technical Guide.

Lettenmaier D.P. (1976): Detection of trends in water quality data from records with dependent observations, Water Resource Research 12, pp. 1037–1046.

Loftis, J.C. and R. C. Ward (1980): Water Quality Monitoring Some Practical Sampling Frequency Considerations. In Environmental Management 4(6), pp. 521–526.

Lovett G. M., Burns D.A. and C.T. Driscoll (2007): Who needs environmental monitoring? In Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 5, pp. 253–260.

MacDonald D.D., Malcolm J.R C.,Whitfield P. H. and Wong M. P. (2009): Designing monitoring programs for water quality based on experience in Canada I. Theory and framework. In Trends in Analytical Chemistry 28 (2), pp. 204–213.

Marty J. and M. Waller (2012). Algae and Algae Monitoring, Presentation at Stream Monitoring, Assessment & Research Team Eastern Region (SMARTER) Fall Meeting 2012 on November 1st 2012 at Rideau Valley Conservation Authority Office.

Mayes E. and Codling (2009). Water Framework Directive and Related Monitoring Programmes. In Biology and Environment: Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 109B, pp. 321-344.

Newfoundland and Labrador Water Quality Monitoring Agreement (2014). Retrieved from

Nova Scotia Lake Survey Program (2013). Retrieved from

Ozkul S., Harmancioǧlu N.B. and V.P. Singh. (2000): Entropy-Based Assessment of Water Quality Monitoring Networks. In Journal of Hydrologic Engineering 5 (1), pp. 90–100.

Robarts R., Barker S.J. and S. Evans (2008): Water Quality Monitoring Assessment: Current Status and Future Needs. Proceedings of Taal 2007: The 12th World Lake Conference.

Sanders T.G., Ward R.C., Loftis J.C., Steele T.D., Adrian D.D. and V. Yevjevich (1983): Design of Networks for Monitoring Water Quality. Water Resources Publications, Littleton, Colorado, pp. 328.

Schulze F.H. and F.H. Bouma. (2001): Use of artificial neural networks in integrated water management. Proceedings Monitoring Tailor-made III, pp. 333-342.

Sharp, W.E (1971): A topologically optimum water - sampling plan for river and streams. In Water Resources Research 6(3), pp. 1641–1646.

Strobl R. O. and P.D. Robillard. (2008): Network Design for Water Quality Monitoring of Surface Freshwaters: A Review. In Journal of Environmental Management 87 (1-3), pp. 639–648.

Strobl R. O., Robillard P.D., Shannon R.D., Day R.L. and A.J. McDonnell (2006): A Water Quality Monitoring Network Design Methodology for the Selection of Critical Sampling Points: Part I. In Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 112 (1-3), pp. 137–158.

USEPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) (2006a): Guidance on Systematic Planning Using the Data Quality Objectives Process. EPA QA/G-4. 121 pp.

USEPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) (2006b): Data Quality Assessment: Statistical Methods for Practitioners. EPA QA/G-9S. 190 pp.

USGS (US Geological Survey (Ed.) (1995): The Strategy for Improving Water-Quality Monitoring in the United States. Book Final Report of the Intergovernmental Task Force on Monitoring Water Quality. Open File Report 95-742. 161 pp.

Vannote R.L., G.W. MINSHALL, K.W. Cummins, J.R. Sedell, C.E. Cushing: "The River Continuum Concept". Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences. 37.1980,1 Ottawa, 130-137.