Brussels, 18 May 2010
Environment: Water scarcity and droughts – a major concern for many areas in Europe
The European Commission today published a report on the progress of Member States in addressing water scarcity and droughts. Despite more rainfall in southern European countries in 2009 than in previous years, greater efforts are still needed to stop and reverse the over-exploitation of Europe's limited water resources. An effective water pricing policy, water efficiency and water saving measures are essential to ensure that Europe has enough good quality water to meet the needs of users and to face the challenges of a changing climate.
EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik said: "Water is life – so water policy is our life insurance. This report highlights the importance of integrating water policy into wider policy goals at all levels, at EU and national levels. More than anything else, our water policies must be sustainable: we cannot afford to borrow water from the future."
Water scarcity – a European issue
The balance between water demand and availability has reached a critical level in many areas of Europe. Water scarcity and droughts have emerged as a major challenge, and climate change is expected to make matters worse.
This new report shows that some Member States have begun to suffer permanent scarcity across the whole country. The problem is not limited to Mediterranean countries. The Czech Republic has reported areas with frequent water scarcity, and France and Belgium have reported over-exploited aquifers.
For several years, the Commission has urged Member States to adopt policy options such as water pricing, improved water management tools, and efficiency and water saving measures.
A report made for the Commission in 2009 showed that the introduction of mandatory requirements on water using devices under the extended Eco-design Directive could bring significant savings. If all domestic water using products were included this could lead to a 19% reduction in total water consumption – a 3.2% reduction in the total annual EU water abstraction. Reducing the water consumption of energy-related products such as taps, showers and baths can also result in a potential reduction of 20% in heating needs, while changes in showering time, bathing frequency or use of taps can result in savings of 20 to 30%.
Today's report confirms that good water management should be based on the water hierarchy, with the priority on water demand management. Supply options should only be considered once the potential for water savings has been exhausted.
The report also expresses the Commission's concern at the delay in the implementation of the Water Framework Directive in the Member States most affected by water scarcity. The deadline for Member States to submit their plans for managing Europe's river basins was in March but in some Member States consultations on these plans have still not started.
Towards a blueprint to safeguard EU waters
The Commission is launching a number of preparatory activities in view of a 2012 water scarcity and droughts policy review. In 2010, the focus will be on efficiency and in particular the potential for savings in buildings, leakage reduction and water efficiency in agriculture.
The results of these activities will feed into the 2012 'Blueprint to safeguard EU waters', together with a review of the implementation of the Water Framework Directive and a review of the vulnerability of environmental resources such as water, biodiversity and soil to climate impacts and other man-made pressures.
The full report is available at: