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You are here: Home / Data and maps / Indicators / Use of freshwater resources / Use of freshwater resources (CSI 018/WAT 001) - Assessment published Nov 2005

Use of freshwater resources (CSI 018/WAT 001) - Assessment published Nov 2005

Indicator Assessment Created 19 May 2005 Published 29 Nov 2005 Last modified 09 Jan 2015, 02:58 PM
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Contents
 

Indicator definition

The water exploitation index (WEI) is the mean annual total abstraction of freshwater divided by the mean annual total renewable freshwater resource at the country level, expressed in percentage terms.

Units

Water exploitation index - WEI (%); water abstraction for irrigation, public water supply, manufacturing industry and energy cooling  (mio. m3 per year).


Key policy question: Is the abstraction rate of water sustainable?

Key messages

The water exploitation index (WEI) decreased in 17 EEA countries between 1990 and 2002, representing a considerable decrease in total water abstraction. But nearly half of Europe's population still lives in water-stressed countries.

Water exploitation index. Total water abstraction per year as percentage of long-term freshwater resources in 1990 and 2002

Note: 1990 = 1991 for Germany, France, Spain and Latvia; 1990 = 1992 for Hungary and Iceland; 2002 = 2001 for Germany, The Netherlands, Bulgaria and Turkey; 2002 = 2000 for Malta 2002 = 1999 Luxembourg, Finland and Austria; 2002 = 1998 for Italy and Portugal; 2002 = 1997 for Greece; No data for Belgium, Ireland and Norway

Data source:

EEA-ETC/WTR based on data from Eurostat data tables: Renewable water resources (million m3/year), LTAA & annual water abstraction by source and by sector (million m3/year) - Total freshwater abstraction (surface + groundwater).

Downloads and more info

Key assessment

The warning threshold for the water exploitation index (WEI), which distinguishes a non-stressed from a stressed region, is around 20 %. Severe water stress can occur where the WEI exceeds 40 %, indicating unsustainable water use.

In Europe there are eight countries that can be considered water-stressed (Germany, England and Wales, Italy, Malta, Belgium, Spain, Bulgaria and Cyprus), representing 46% of Europe's population. Only in Cyprus does the WEI exceed 40 %. However, it is necessary to take into account the high water abstraction for non-consumptive uses (cooling water) in Germany, England and Wales, Bulgaria and Belgium. Most of the water abstracted in the other four countries (Italy, Spain, Cyprus and Malta) is for consumptive uses (especially irrigation) and there is therefore higher pressure on water resources in these four countries.


The WEI decreased in 17 countries during the period 1990 to 2002, representing a considerable decrease in total water abstraction. Most of the decrease occurred in the new EU Member States, as a result of the decline in abstraction in most economic sectors. This trend was the result of institutional and economic changes. However, five countries (The Netherlands, the UK, Greece, Portugal, and Turkey) increased their WEI in the same period because of the increase in total water abstraction.

Specific policy question: Is the use of water by sectors sustainable?

Water abstraction for public water supply (million m3/year) in 1990 and 2002

Note: Eastern (central+northern): Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary (1990=1992), Poland, Romania, Slovak Republic, Slovenia Western (central+northern): Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany (1990 = 1991; 2002 = 2001), Netherlands, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Finland, Sweden, Iceland (1990 = 1992), Norway Western (southern): France, Spain (1990 = 1991)

Data source:

EEA-ETC/WTR based on data from Eurostat data table: Annual water abstraction by source and by sector

Downloads and more info

Water abstraction for manufacturing industry (million m3/year) in 1990 and 2002

Note: Eastern (central+northern): Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary (1990 = 1992), Latvia (1990 = 1991), Poland, Romania, Slovak Republic, Slovenia Western (central+northern): Austria, Denmark, Germany (1990 = 1991; 2002 = 2001), Netherlands (2002 = 2001), England and Wales (2002 = 2001), Finland (2002 = 2001), Sweden, Iceland (1990 = 1992) Western (southern): France, Spain (1990 = 1991)

Data source:

EEA-ETC/WTR based on data from Eurostat data table: Annual water abstraction by source and by sector

Downloads and more info

Water abstraction for energy cooling (million m3/year) in 1990 and 2002

Note: Eastern (central+northern): Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary (1990 = 1992), Poland, Romania (1990 = 1991), Western (central+northern): Austria, Germany (1990 = 1991; 2002 = 2001), Netherlands (2002 = 2001), England and Wales (2002 = 2001), Finland (2002 = 2001), Sweden, Switzerland Western (southern): France, Spain (1990 = 1991)

Data source:

EEA-ETC/WTR based on data from Eurostat data table: Annual water abstraction by source and by sector (mio3/year)

Downloads and more info

Water abstraction for irrigation (million m3/year) in 1990 and 2002

Note: Eastern (central and northern): Czech Republic, Hungary (1990 = 1992), Poland, Romania, Slovenia (2002 = 2001), Turkey (2002 = 2001)

Data source:

EEA-ETC/WTR based on data from Eurostat data table: Annual water abstraction by source and by sector

Downloads and more info

Specific assessment

All economic sectors need water for their development. Agriculture, industry and most forms of energy production are not possible if water is not available. Navigation and a variety of recreational activities also depend on water. The most important uses, in terms of total abstraction, have been identified as urban (households and industry connected to the public water supply system), industry, agriculture and energy (cooling in power plants). The main water consumption sectors are irrigation, urban, and manufacturing industry.


Southern European countries use the largest percentages of abstracted water for agriculture, generally accounting for more than two-thirds of total abstraction. Irrigation is the most significant use of water in the agriculture sector in these countries. Central plus Nordic countries use the largest percentages of abstracted water for cooling in energy production, industrial production and public water supply.

The decrease in agricultural and industrial activities in the new Member States and Romania and Bulgaria during the transition process led to decreases of about 70 % in water abstraction for agricultural and industrial uses in most of the countries. Agricultural activities reached their minima around the mid-1990s but more recently countries have been increasing their agricultural production.

Water use for agriculture, mainly irrigation, is on average four times higher per hectare of irrigated land in southern Europe than elsewhere. The water abstraction for irrigation in Turkey increased, and the increase in the area of irrigated land exacerbated the pressure on water resources; this trend is expected to continue with new irrigation projects.

Data show a decreasing trend in water use for public water supply in most  countries. This trend is more pronounced in new Member States and Bulgaria and Romania, with a 30 % reduction during the 1990s. In most of these countries, the new economic conditions led to water supply companies increasing the price of water and installing water meters in houses. This resulted in people using less water. Industries connected to the public systems also reduced their industrial production and hence their water use. However the supply network in most of these countries is obsolete and losses in distribution systems require high abstraction volumes to maintain supply.

Water abstracted for cooling in energy production is considered a non-consumptive use as the water is returned to the environment. It accounts for around 30 % of all water use in Europe. The western European countries and  the central and northern countries of eastern Europe are the largest users of water for cooling; in particular more than half of water abstracted  in Belgium, Germany and Estonia  is used for this purpose.

Data sources

Policy context and targets

Context description

Achieving the objective of the EU's Sixth Environment Action Programme (2001-2010), to ensure that rates of extraction from water resources are sustainable over the long term, requires monitoring of the efficiency of water use in different economic sectors at the national, regional and local level. The WEI is part of the set of water indicators of several international organisations such as UNEP, OECD, EUROSTAT and the Mediterranean Blue Plan. There is an international consensus about the use of this indicator.

The indicator describes how the total water abstractions put pressure on water resources identifying those countries having high abstractions in relation to their resources and therefore prone to suffer water stress. The changes in WEI help to analyse how the changes in abstractions impact on the freshwater resources by adding pressure to them or by making them more sustainable.

 

Targets

There are no specific quantitative targets directly related to this indicator. However, the Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC) requires countries to promote sustainable use based on long-term protection of available water resources and ensure a balance between abstraction and recharge of groundwater, with the aim of achieving good groundwater status by 2015.

The warning threshold for the water exploitation index which distinguishes a non-stressed from a stressed region is around 20 %. Severe water stress can occur where the WEI exceeds 40 %, indicating strong competition for water but not necessarily enough extraction to trigger frequent water crises (see methodology section for further discussion of threshold values).

Related policy documents

  • Sixth Environment Action Programme
    DECISION No 1600/2002/EC OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 22 July 2002 laying down the Sixth Community Environment Action Programme
  • Water Framework Directive (WFD) 2000/60/EC
    Water Framework Directive (WFD) 2000/60/EC: 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.

Methodology

Methodology for indicator calculation

Calculation of water exploitation index

1) The latest data from Eurostat (updated 2005/07/22) on total water abstraction (totABS) and long term annual average renewable resource (LTAA) have been extracted.

2) For each country quality assured 1990 and 2002 totABS values and LTAA value have been established. In some cases suspicious values has been checked against national sources.

3.Once the data series are complete (data close 1990 and 2002), the WEI is calculated, by country and year, as the ratio of total water annual abstraction to the long-term annual average available volume (Ltaa) of freshwater resources, expressed in percentage terms.

WEI = totABS / LTAA x 100

Where: totABS = total annual freshwater abstraction for all uses;  LTAA = long term annual average of freshwater resources, where data are averaged over a period of at least 20 consecutive years. Unit = %

The warning threshold for the water exploitation index which distinguishes a non-stressed from a stressed region is around 20 % (Raskin et al. 1997). Severe water stress can occur where the WEI exceeds 40 %, indicating strong competition for water but not necessarily enough extraction to trigger frequent water crises. Some experts argue that 40 % is too low a threshold, and that water resources could be used much more intensively, up to a 60 % threshold. Others argue that freshwater ecosystems cannot remain healthy if the waters in a river basin are abstracted as intensely as indicated by a WEI in excess of 40 % (Alcamo et al., 2000).

Sub-indicators water abstraction by sectors

1) The latest data from Eurostat on total water abstraction by sector from the table Annual water abstraction by source and by sector (mio3/year) have been extracted

2) Then their are established quality controlled values for each country and sector for 1990 and 2002

3) Data are then sorted for the four European regions and the sums are calculated for each region.

4) Then the four bar charts have been produced.

 

Methodology for gap filling

When data values from Eurostat are not available for 1990 or 2002, ETC Water has generally used the nearest value for graph production (e.g. if no 1990 data, data from 1989, 1991 or 1992 has been used). If no data close to (generally +/- 3 years) the start or end year - the country has not been included into graphs or region sums. In case of deviation the exact year for the country is listed in the diagram notes.

Methodology references

  • Raskin et al. 1997 Raskin, P., Gleick, P.H., Kirshen, P., Pontius, R. G. Jr and Strzepek, K. ,1997. Comprehensive assessment of the freshwater resources of the world. Stockholm Environmental Institute, Sweden. Document prepared for UN Commission for Sustainable Development 5th Session 1997 - Water stress categories are described on page 27-29.
  • Alcamo et al. 2000 Alcamo, J., Henrich, T., Rosch, T., 2000. World Water in 2025 - Global modelling and scenario analysis for the World Commission on Water for the 21st Century. Report A0002, Centre for Environmental System Research, University of Kassel, Germany

Uncertainties

Methodology uncertainty

Data at the national level cannot reflect water stress situations at the regional or local level. The indicator does not reflect the uneven spatial distribution of resources and may therefore   mask regional or local risks of water stress.

Caution should be used when comparing countries, because of different definitions and procedures for estimating water use (e.g. some include cooling water, other do not) and freshwater resources, in particular internal flows. Some sectoral abstractions, such as cooling water included in the industrial abstraction data, do not correspond to the specified uses.

Sectoral use of water does not always reflect the relative importance of the sectors in the economy of one country. It is rather an indicator of on which sectors the environmental measures need to focus in order to enhance the protection of the environment.

Data sets uncertainty

Data need to be considered with reservation due to the lack of common European definitions and procedures for calculating water abstraction and freshwater resources. Current work is being carried out between EUROSTAT and EEA to standardise definitions and methodologies for data estimation.

Data are not available for all the countries considered, especially for 2000 and 2002, and the data series from 1990 are not complete. There are gaps in water use in some years and for some countries, particularly in the Nordic and the southern accession countries.

Accurate assessments that take climatic conditions into account would require the use of more disaggregated data at the spatial and geographical level.

Rationale uncertainty

Better indicators of the evolution of freshwater resources in each country are needed (for example by using information on trends in discharges at some representative gauging stations per country). If groundwater abstractions are considered separately from surface water abstractions, it would be necessary to have some indicators on the evolution of the groundwater resource (for example by using information on the head levels of selected piezometers per country). Better estimates of water abstraction could be developed by considering the uses involved in each economic sector.

Spatial level: There are notable differences between water uses in countries. Thus the assessment of the indicators should be based at national scale as a minimum requirement, although it would be preferable to have data at basin scale if available.

More information about this indicator

See this indicator specification for more details.

Generic metadata

Topics:

Water Water (Primary topic)

Tags:
water | csi
DPSIR: Pressure
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • CSI 018
  • WAT 001
Geographic coverage:
Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom

Contacts and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Peter Kristensen

Ownership

EEA Management Plan

2010 (note: EEA internal system)

Dates

Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled every 2 years
Filed under: ,

Comments

European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Denmark
Phone: +45 3336 7100