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Droughts and water scarcity
The Commission provides guidelines for addressing sporadic drought and medium- or long-term water scarcity. The guidelines deal with water pricing, water allocation, drought prevention and rapid response in the event of a drought, as well as high-quality information and technological solutions tackling water scarcity and droughts.
Commission Communication of 18 July 2007: “Addressing the challenge of water scarcity and droughts in the European Union” [COM(2007) 414 final – Not published in the Official Journal].
Water is a precious resource. Its availability may be low temporarily, owing, for instance, to rainfall deficiency (drought), or low for a sustained period of time in which the demand for water exceeds the exploitable water resources (water scarcity). Water availability problems affect many regions in Europe and require combined action at EU level, and it is all the more necessary to take action given that sporadic or sustained water shortages are likely to persist due to climate change.
For these problems to be appropriately addressed, some issues need to be considered such as:
- the need to fully implement the Water Framework Directive;
- the frequent inefficiency of current national water pricing policies;
- land-use planning;
- the need to favour water-saving measures, which entails setting priorities in terms of solutions (so as to prevent the use of additional water supply infrastructures) and in terms of water uses (providing water to the public is a top priority);
- the need to act in an integrated manner and to base such action on scientific information.
The Commission presents a wide range of possible orientations for managing water scarcity and drought problems at EU and national level, and lists some good practices existing in various countries.
To apply the Water Framework Directive, Member States must set the right price for water, notably via a water pricing policy that is based on a consistent economic assessment of water uses and water value and by introducing compulsory water metering programmes.
In addition, water allocation and water-related funding must be made more efficient in order to limit the adverse effects of the economic development of some river basins. Special attention should therefore be paid to measures aiming to improve land-use planning, in particular integration of water availability concerns into the exploitation of farmland, stringent implementation of the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive, identification of river basins experiencing frequent or permanent water shortage and adoption of appropriate management provisions for these basins.
Furthermore, certain requirements need to be met for water efficiency to be financed: Community guidelines for financing water supply infrastructures must be refined, it must be determined whether additional environmental preconditions need to be set before allocating the funds, Community funds must be used to finance sectoral measures that contribute to effective water management, Community funds must be used appropriately and fiscal incentives that promote water efficiency must be developed.
Specific guidelines are laid down for improving drought risk management. The Commission recommends in particular that the Member States develop drought risk management plans, as indicated in the Water Framework Directive, by 2009, based on the exchange of good practices between countries and on methodologies developed at EU level. The Commission also intends to set up an observatory and an early warning system on droughts, whose prototypes and implementing procedures ought to be adopted by 2012. It furthermore recommends optimising the use of the EU Solidarity Fund and European Mechanism for Civil Protection, so that Member States that are hard hit by drought can receive the appropriate aid without delay.
Only when all prevention solutions and all water saving and water efficiency measures have been implemented does the Commission feel that additional water supply infrastructures can be set up. This solution ought to be strictly circumscribed so that alternative water-saving measures are favoured, the impact on the environment (from storing water, diverting bodies of water or setting up desalination plants) is minimised as much as possible and it is ensured that these measures are compatible with the EU’s other environment- and energy-related priorities.
Water-efficient technologies and practices could help to reduce leakages and wastage. In this respect, the Commission recommends that standards be developed for water-using devices (particularly those used in agriculture), that specific legislation be drawn up for non-energy-using products that use water (such as taps, shower heads, toilets), that water usage issues be integrated into standards for products and buildings, that research be encouraged, that a performance indicator on the use of water be considered and also that voluntary agreements be developed with sectors that use water in their manufacturing processes.
Consumers and economic operators should also be involved so as to foster the emergence of a water-saving culture in Europe. Steps should therefore be taken to inform these actors and to make them aware of their responsibilities: a coordinated initiative could be launched on the efficient use of water by businesses that practise Corporate Social Responsibility, rules on water management could be included in quality assurance and certification schemes, EU labelling schemes could be expanded, and educational programmes, advisory services, the exchange of good practices and communication campaigns focused on water availability could be supported on a national level.
Since decision-making must be based on high-quality information, and therefore requires that knowledge and data collection be improved. An information system on water scarcity and drought throughout Europe should be developed, based on the Water Information System for Europe (WISE), on an annual European assessment using appropriate indicators, and on information obtained from the GMES initiative. Research and technological development opportunities should also be encouraged, for instance by promoting development and research activities via the Seventh Framework Programme for Research, by widely disseminating the results of these activities and by facilitating their exploitation.