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Brussels, 22 March 2012

World Water Day – EU research on water

22 March marks the annual celebration of World Water Day. Together with ministerial delegations from more than 100 countries, the European Union endorsed a Ministerial Declaration on Water at last week's World Water Forum. Action is needed to balance the difficult water supply and demand equation, handle water stress or water scarcity in times of changing climate and sustain our water ecosystems. The European Commission supports research to help to manage our water resources sustainably and achieve the shift towards an internationally competitive, water-efficient economy in Europe.

EU Research under the Framework Programmes

Since the 1980s, water research has accounted for growing numbers of projects and an increasing budget in the EU's Research Framework Programmes (FPs). The total EU contribution to projects funded over the last 10 years exceeded €1.3 billion. In total, more than 800 water research projects have received EU support under the the Sixth and Seventh Framework Programmes (FP6, FP7). In the first four calls of the FP7 Cooperation Theme "Environment" alone, up to 90 water projects were selected, representing an EU investment of more than €300 million. Environmental research activities focus notably on extreme hydrometeorological events, integrated water resources management, water supply and sanitation and issues relevent for the implementation of the Water Framework Directive. Other FP activities include research into nanotechnologies for water treatment as well as several projects and actions to improve the use of water in agriculture, food and biomass production. Water issues have also been covered in other areas including ICT, Space, Security, Energy, Socio-Economic Sciences and Humanities. Successful projects include:

AQUAFIT4USE – Smart use of water by industry: The project aims to reduce the freshwater needs of four water-intensive industries (paper, wood, textiles and chemicals). Its new water quality management software helps industrial users define their water quality needs. This alone has cut freshwater use by between 20 and 50 per cent, depending on the industry. By developing a new technology to remove salt from cooling water, which can then be re-used, AQUAFIT4USE has allowed freshwater use for cooling towers to be cut by an impressive 80 per cent. Pilot tests of a new non-chemical technology to prevent biofouling (the growth of organisms like algae) at a chemical plant in Sweden have resulted in an 80 percent reduction. Biofouling is one of the biggest water-related costs for industry and usually requires chemical treatment. Participants from the Netherlands, Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Denmark, Spain, France, Italy, Sweden, Slovenia, Poland, United Kingdom. EU contribution: € 9.7 million. Website:

WISER – Science in Support of Policy: The WISER project is a prime example of how EU-funded science supports European policy implementation. WISER developed new and harmonised methods and indicators to assess and monitor the ecological status of lakes, rivers and coastal areas. Following a systematic analysis of a large number of rivers, lakes and other water ecosystems representative of the various ecological regions in Europe, it collated a list of suitable and cost-effective management practices and mitigation or recovery measures for degraded waters. It thereby ensured that results of national assessments are comparable. Participants from Germany, Italy, the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Germany, France, Austria, Sweden, Poland, Estonia, Denmark, Bulgaria, Finland, Norway and the European Commission's Joint Research Centre. EU contribution: €7 million. Website:

SODIS water – Safe water for disaster-struck regions: More than 3.5 million people die each year from water-related disease; 84 percent are children. But there is an effective intervention measure against a range of waterborne diarrhoeal diseases, which can be employed at household level and as emergency relief: Solar disinfection (SODIS). SODIS is based on the simple idea of using sunlight to disinfect contaminated drinking water. Coupled with promotion strategy to speed up the uptake of the technique, the EU-funded project SODIS water carried out impact assessments for the use of this technique in Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa. It analysed the technique's effectiveness to a set of pathogens not analysed previously and explored methods of treating larger water volumes at higher speed. Participants from Ireland, UK, South Africa, Switzerland, Zimbabwe, Spain, Kenya. EU contribution: €1.9 million. More information:

In-house water-related science at the European Commission

The European Commission's in house science service, the Joint Research Centre (JRC), supports water-related policies by carrying out direct research and actively looking for science-based solutions to water challenges. Sampling exercises to assess water quality throughout the EU, modelling tools, scientific assessment of future water needs by economic sector are just some of the examples.

Current and future water availability

The JRC has developed state of the art hydrological models and a modelling framework that allow to assess current and future water availability by investigating impacts of e.g. land-use, irrigation, energy consumption and the cost-effectiveness of various policy options and scenarios. Water availability maps have been recently published for Europe and Africa

In terms of water efficiency, an optimisation module based on economic and environmental constraints allows the Commission's science service to test options for allocation of available water to all end users while ensuring the best trade-offs in the interest of economic and environmental sustainability. In combination with studies on the water footprint of products – the amount of water that is consumed or polluted over the full production chain, both directly and indirectly – the JRC can identify water stress regions. This way, recommendations on water efficiency can be developed. Special attention is paid to the agricultural needs for water, as this sector is the largest consumer and one of the major pressures on water quality. The Global Water Satisfaction Index (GWSI) helps to detect water stress hotspots for specific crops.

Water quality

Good ecological status is a key indicator for EU water-related policies. The JRC has played a pivotal role in providing scientific and technical support to its definition and measurement. On a more general level, it carries out extensive research to assess the impact of pollutants in aquatic ecosystems. Studies are also conducted on the development of Environmental Quality Standards (EQS) setting maximum concentrations of pollutants in water, sediments or living organisms in an area. In addition, the JRC coordinates several campaigns to measure and monitor nutrients and chemicals.

In 2011 the JRC conducted three EU-wide screening exercises on new and less-investigated substances aiming at emerging pollutants in treated wastewater, sewage sludge and bio-wastes such as compost. Results show that even substances only recently introduced in the European Market quickly find their way to water systems. This work is complemented by modelling-based scenario analyses of the impacts of policy options in controlling pollutant emissions to aquatic bodies.

Living with extremes

Extreme water events such as droughts, floods or tsunamis have enormous environmental, social and economic impacts. Direct research helps address these problems by forecasting, monitoring and evaluating floods (European Flood Awareness System - EFAS), droughts (European Drought Observatory - EDO) and tsunamis (Global Disaster Alerts and Coordination System - GDACS), across Europe and worldwide.

Water governance

At a global level, the European Commission and the JRC are highly committed to supporting developing countries, mostly in Africa and Latin America, in finding their own sustainable solutions to water challenges. Guidelines are provided in the portal. The JRC also actively supports technology transfer and capacity building by implementing scientific networks and contributes to environmental and socio-economic analysis of the water sector with the partner countries. In Europe, scientific support is provided to the EU's Danube strategy, helping find trans-boundary solutions for the restoration of water quality and the management of water-related risks.

Innovation in water

The JRC is also active on water-related innovation and standardisation. Some examples to be highlighted are the efforts done to standardise satellite observations of essential climate variables such as ocean colour and sea surface temperature, or to increase the interoperability of systems monitoring water runoff, ecosystems or weather prediction ( Eco-design and emerging technologies for waste water management are other fields of direct research.

More information:

Report - Current water resources in Europe and Africa - Matching water supply and water demand:

European Research Council

The European Research Council (ERC) funds top-level frontier research by awarding grants to individual scientists and their teams in all domains. Without defining any pre-set priorities for funding, the ERC expects researchers to bring about new and unpredictable scientific and technological discoveries.

So far, the ERC has also funded a number of projects that will help to better understand issues around water quality and scarcity, water in relation to natural disasters, or water and healthcare. Fields of research include studying the role and the power of water in coastal regions such as the Bay of Bengal and the development of a mathematical theory of water flows. Other projects measure and predict the effects of climate change on the health of coral and aquatic plants in the Mediterranean and Red seas, or look at creating instruments to manage in real-time the development of waterborne epidemics such as cholera. For more on the ERC go to:

RINEC - Modelling waterborne epidemics

In this ERC project, the team of Prof Andrea Rinaldo developed mathematical models to predict the course of future epidemics and to map the progress of ongoing outbreaks. Their findings are a powerful tool for "real-time management" of epidemics, helping humanitarian organisations with the deployment of healthcare resources, medical staff, life-saving supplies and vaccines. With this project, researchers are able to establish a space-time model of an epidemic's development as epidemics travel in waves and infections evolve differently according to the areas. Their work on "model-guided field validation" also allows them to use new technologies, such as remote sensory equipment. The outbreak of cholera on the island of Haiti in October 2010, which followed the dramatic earthquake, transformed the project. Whilst Prof Rinaldo had planned to study the relationship between river networks and the spread of disease, he could not have anticipated that his mathematical modelling would be tested on an unfolding emergency. His goal is to contribute to better equip governments and humanitarian workers in shaping future responses to epidemics.

ERC grantee: Professor Andrea Rinaldo

Host Institution: École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland

Project: River Networks as Ecological Corridors (RINEC)

ERC call: ERC Advanced grant 2008

ERC funding: € 1.146.200 for 4 years

Main EU Research and Innovation Policy Measures for Water

Joint Programming Initiative: Water challenges for a Changing World

The overall aim of Joint Programming is to pool national research efforts in order to make better use of Europe's precious public R&D resources, avoid duplication and tackle specific common European challenges more effectively. The Joint Programming Initiative (JPI) "Water Challenges for a Changing World" was launched in December 2011. The Water JPI will address five research areas: Closing the water cycle gap, Developing safe water systems for the citizens, Maintaining ecosystem sustainability, Implementing a water-wise bio-based economy and Reinforcing competitiveness of the water industry in Europe. To support the implementation of the JPI, the European Commission launched a call for proposals in 2011 to fund dedicated coordination actions under the EU's 7th Framework Programme for Research (FP7). These actions are expected to significantly shorten the time required to reach the JPI implementation phase and build the necessary JPI governance structures.

Joint Programming Website:

Commission recommendation on Water JPI:

Multilateral Initiatives

Ways to coordinate research activities with international partners have been examined in the context of the Strategic Forum for International Science & Technology Cooperation (SFIC). In November 2010, an EU-India pilot initiative on 'water and bio-resources related challenges' was launched. The joint strategic research and innovation agenda with India will focus to a large extent on water challenges. More Information:

The European Union Water Initiative (EUWI) seeks to accelerate progress towards the Millennium Development Goal on access to drinking water and sanitation. Research was recognised as an integral component of the EUWI from the start. More information:

The Group on Earth Observations (GEO), a voluntary partnership of governments and international organisations co-chaired by the European Commission and supported by the FP7 Environment Theme, has a water-related component. The implementation of the so-called Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) will improve integrated water resource management by bringing together observation data, prediction models and decision support systems. More information:

EU Member States, Norway and the European Commission jointly developed a Science Policy Interface Group on Water to support the implementation of EU water legislation. The initiative aims to facilitate the transfer of research outcomes and to identify research gaps linked to the implementation of the water-related directives. Group Solutions presented at the World Water Forum 2012:

Established in 2004, the European Technology Platform on Water Supply and Sanitation Technology Platform aims to strengthen the potential for technological innovation and the competitiveness of the European water industry, of water professionals and research institutions. More information:

The European Institute of Innovation and Technology launched a so-called Climate Knowledge and Innovation Community in 2010. This initiative will explore commercial opportunities by developing sustainable solutions in adaptive water management.

More information:

See also the results of a Eurobarometer survey European citizens' views on water in IP/12/289

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