Personal tools


Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Sound and independent information
on the environment

You are here: Home / Data and maps / Indicators / Use of freshwater resources / Use of freshwater resources (CSI 018/WAT 001) - Assessment published Jan 2009

Use of freshwater resources (CSI 018/WAT 001) - Assessment published Jan 2009

Indicator Assessment Created 17 Dec 2007 Published 28 Jan 2009 Last modified 09 Jan 2015, 02:58 PM
Topics: ,

Generic metadata


Water Water (Primary topic)

energy2008 | water | soer2010 | abstraction | 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, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom

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

Key messages

Over the last 10-15 years the Water Exploitation Index (WEI) decreased in 21 EEA countries (Fig.1), mainly in the  in the eastern countries, due to economic and institutional changes and some western countries, as a result of water saving and water efficiency measures.

Total water abstraction decreased about 10 %, but nearly half of Europe's population still lives in water-stressed countries (approx. 266 million inhabitants).

Water exploitation index (WEI).

Note: WEI = Annual total water abstraction per year as percentage of available long-term freshwater resources around 1990 and latest year available

Data source:

EEA-ETC/WTR based on the latest available data from Eurostat data tables (extracted on 06/2008): Renewable water resources (million m3/year), Long Term Annual Average (LTAA) and 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 % (Raskin et al. 1997). Severe water stress can occur where the WEI exceeds 40 % (Alcamo et al., 2000), indicating unsustainable water use.

In Europe there are nine countries that can be considered water-stressed based on the Eurostat data available for the period 1997-2005 (Germany, Cyprus, Spain, Belgium, Bulgaria, Italy, UK (England and Wales), Malta and the FYR of Macedonia), representing about 46%, or almost half of Europe's population. Based on the 2005 available data Cyprus (45 %) and Bulgaria (>38%) have the highest WEI. However, it is necessary to take into account the high water abstraction for non-consumptive uses (energy cooling water) in Germany, England and Wales, Bulgaria and Belgium. Most of the water abstracted in the remaining five water-stressed countries (Italy, Spain, Cyprus, FYR of Macedonia and Malta) is for consumptive uses (especially irrigation) and there is therefore higher pressure on water resources in these five countries.

The WEI decreased in 21 countries over the last 10-15 years, representing a decrease about 10 % in total water abstraction (in absolute number water abstraction was reduced by 28 000 mio m3  compared to a total abstraction of 276 000 mio m3 in 1990). 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, seven countries (The Netherlands, UK, Greece, Finland, Slovenia, Spain and Turkey) increased their WEI during the period 1990 to 2005 because of the increase in total water abstraction. The WEI has also increased in Cyprus from 1998 to 2005 (lack of data do not allow comparison to the pre-1997 period).

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

Water abstraction for public water supply (million m3/year) in the early 1990s and 2001-2005

Note: Eastern (central and northern): Bulgaria (1990;2005), Czech Republic (1990;2005), Hungary (1992;2004), Poland (1990;2005), Romania (1990;2005), Slovak Republic (1990;2005), Slovenia (1990;2002) Western (central and northern): Austria (1990;1999), Belgium (1990;2005), Denmark (1990;2004), Finland (1990;2005), Germany (1991;2004), Iceland (1992;2005), Ireland (1994;2005), Netherlands (1990;2005), Norway (1990;2005), Sweden (1990;2004), Switzerland (1990;2005), United Kingdom (1990;2004), Southern: France (1990;2002), Spain (1991;2004), FYR of Macedonia (1990;2001) Turkey: :(1994:2004)

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 early 1990s and 2001-2005.

Note: Eastern (central and northern): Bulgaria (1990;2005), Czech Republic (1990;2005), Hungary (1992;2004), Latvia (1991;2005), Poland (1990;2005), Romania (1990;2005), Slovak Republic (1990;2005), Slovenia (1990;2005) Western (central and northern): Austria (1990;2002), Belgium (1994;2003), Denmark (1990;2004), England & Wales (1990;2004), Finland (1990;2005), Germany (1991;2004), Iceland (1992;2005), Netherlands (1990;2005), and Sweden (1990;2004) Southern: France (1990;2002), Spain (1991;2004) Turkey: (1995;2004)

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 early 1990s and 2001-2005

Note: Eastern (central and northern): Bulgaria (1990;2005), Czech Republic (1990;2002), Estonia (1990;2002), Hungary (1992;2002), Poland (1990;2005), Romania (1991;2005) Western (central and northern): Austria (1990;2002), Belgium (1994;2003), England&Wales (1990;2004), Finland (1990;2005), Germany (1991;2004), Netherlands (1990;2005), Sweden (1990;2004), Switzerland (1990;2005) Southern: France (1990;2002), Spain (1991;2004) Turkey: (1994;2004)

Data source:

EEA-ETC/WTR based on data from Eurostat data table: Annual water abstraction by source and by sector (mio3/year). Note that the latest reported data on EUROSTAT from Hungary also include water abstraction for use in hydropower production.For consistency purposes the fraction corresponding to the hydropower production has been removed form this analysis.

Downloads and more info

Water abstractions for irrigation, manufacturing industry, energy cooling and Public Water Supply (million m3/year) in early 1990s and the period 1997-2005

Note: Data from Italy are missing (abstraction 42000 mio

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 irrigation (million m3/year) in the early 1990s and 1997-2005

Note: Eastern (central and northern): Bulgaria (1990;2005), Czech Republic (1990;2005), Hungary (1992;2004), Latvia (1991; 2005); Poland (1990;2005), Romania (1990;2005), Slovakia (1990; 2005) and Slovenia (1990;2005) Western (central and northern): Austria (1990;2002), Belgium (1994;2003), Denmark (1990;2004), England and Wales (1990;2004), Finland (1994;2005), Germany (1995;2002), Netherlands (1995;2005), Norway (1995;2005), and Sweden (1990;2004) Southern: France (1991;2002), Greece (1990;1997), Portugal (1990;1998), and Spain (1991;2004) - no data from Italy (~21000 mio

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 public water supply (households and industry), agriculture, industry and energy (cooling in power plants). On average and for the period 1997 to 2005, 20.7% of total water abstraction in Europe is used for public water supply, 23.6 % for agriculture, 12.3% for industry and 43.4% for energy production.

Water abstraction for irrigation/agriculture (Fig.3), has decreased in eastern Europe (about 92 % reduction). This reduction trend is driven mainly by the decline of agricultural activities in Bulgaria and Romania during the transition period. In the remaining eastern EU countries the total irrigable area that is linked to the irrigation water demand) has declined about 20 %. In Bulgaria the amount of water used for irrigation has declined during transition due to abandonment of the existing irrigation systems led by the land fragmentation in the wake of decollectivization and restitution. Additionally, the change of crop structure induced by the instability of agricultural product prices and the irregularity of water supply have contributed to the irrigation systems abandonment (Penonv, 2002).

Water abstraction for irrigation has decreased in Western Europe (north and central) by an average of 56 %. This decrease is mainly driven by Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and England and Wales, while it is observed that in Austria and Belgium there is on contrary an increasing trend (matched with a respective increase of the irrigable area). The overall decreasing trend can be attributed partly to a respective decrease of the irrigable area (e.g. Germany, Netherlands, Finland) and partly on the more efficient use of water in countries where the irrigable area has actually grown (e.g. Denmark, Sweden, England and Wales).

Water abstraction for irrigation increased with about 6 % in southern Europe. In Turkey abstraction for irrigation has increased by one third from the 1990 level. The percentage increase of irrigation water in southern Europe is only one fifth of the percentage increase of irrigable land (about 22% increase as observed by the IRENA 10 indicator on water use intensity, grain maize is the dominant crop) during the last 17 years, which can be attributed to water saving technologies, smart irrigation systems and in general increase in water efficiency (Dworak et al., 2007, Plan Bleu 2004, Massarutto, 2001). Additionally, the use of recycled water and desalination are becoming more spread (e.g. Spain) (OECD, 2008). Although the main source of irrigation water is surface water, unregulated/illegal water abstractions mainly from groundwater should be added to the high figures on water abstraction for irrigation in many southern European countries (e.g. Italy) (OECD, 2008).

Concerning the abstraction for public water supply two different trends are observed in Europe during the last 10-15 years (Fig.4): the eastern and western European countries have an overall reduction from (8-38 %), while southern European domestic use has increased by 15 % and Turkey up to 53 %. The decreasing trend is more pronounced in United Kingdom and Germany, as well as in eastern countries (Poland, Bulgaria and Romania), and can be attributed to the promotion of water saving practices (water efficient fixtures and public awareness), repair of leakages, water metering, etc. (Dworak et al., 2007). In particular, in the eastern EU countries the new economic conditions triggered an increase in water prices by the companies responsible for water supply and for water metering installations. This resulted in households and industries that are connected to the public system using less water (Dalmas and Reynaud, 2003). However the supply network in most of these countries is obsolete and water losses/leakages in distribution systems require high abstraction volumes to maintain supply (EEA, 2007).

Concerning the southern countries, the observed increase in public water supply could be mainly attributed to the climate change and tourism (hotels, room rentals, restaurants connected to PWS systems). Increases in temperature (which are observed in the Mediterranean area) are shown to increase domestic water demand as people use more water for personal hygiene and outdoor uses (gardening, swimming pool refill etc.) (Cohen, 1987, Downing et al., 2003, Herrington, 1996, Kenneth, 1997). In France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain tourist arrivals increased by approximately 90% in the last two decades (Plan Bleu, 2004, WWF, 2004).

Water abstractions for manufacturing industry substantially decreased all over Europe (Fig.5); 10 % reduction in western (central and northern) countries, 19 % reduction in southern countries and up to 79 % reduction in eastern countries. In Turkey the reduction reaches 30 %. This overall decrease could be attributed to a transition from old-fashioned water demanding industries to new industrial plants that use water more efficiently. Based on information from UK, France and Spain approximately 30-40 % of industrial plants have implemented water saving technology and measures in the recent years (ICAEN, 1999). Additionally, the increased use of grey and reused water for industry across Europe may also have contributed to this reduction (UNEP)

Water abstraction for cooling in energy production accounts for 43.4 % of the total water abstraction in Europe. In some countries such as Germany, France, and Poland more than half of the total abstracted water is for energy production.

Energy cooling water abstractions in Europe have decreased overall by 10 % over the last 10-15 years (Fig. 6). In some countries such as Germany, France and Belgium (Flanders), the reductions have exceeded 20 % (MIRA-T 2006), whilst in others such as the Netherlands, England and Wales, and Poland abstraction has remained broadly constant (Eurostat; MNP 2008; Environment Agency/Defra 2008).

Where reductions have occurred, they can be attributed to the replacement of older, less water efficient power plants, but also the introduction of advanced circulation technologies (Dworak et al., 2007). In Germany, for example, the current multiple use associated with circulatory systems results in the same abstracted water being used three times over.

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.
Cohen S. (1987). Projected increases in municipal water use in the Great Lakes due to C02- induced climatic change. Water Resources Bulletin, 23(1), 91-101.
Dalmas L. and Reynaud, A. (2003): Residential Water Demand in the Slovak Republic, LERNA CEA-INRA-UT1, 2003.
Downing T.E, Butterfield R.E., Edmonds B., Knox J.W., Moss S., Piper B.S. and Weatherhead E.K. (and the CCDeW project team) (2003). Climate Change and the Demand for Water, Research Report, Stockholm Environment Institute Oxford Office, Oxford.
Dworak T., Berglund M., Laaser C., Strosser P., Roussard J., Grandmougin B. Kossida M., Kyriazopoulou I., Berbel J., Kolberg S., Rodríguez-Díaz J.A, Montesinos P. (2007): EU Water Saving Potential, Report ENV.D.2/ETU/2007/0001r, EU Commission
EEA (2001): Environmental issue report No 19, Sustainable water use in Europe Part 2: Demand management, EEA, Copenhagen, 2001.
Herrington, P. (1996). Climate change and the demand for water. HMSO, London.
Institut Català  d'Energia-ICAEN. (1999): Gestió de l'aigua a la Indústria. Estalvi i Depuració.
Kenneth D. F., 1997. Water Resources and Climate Change. Resources for the future Climate Issues Brief No. 3.
Massarutto A. (ed.) (2001): Water pricing, the Common Agricultural policy and irrigation water use, draft report, Udine, Italy.
MIRA-T 2006: Flanders Environment Report - Environmental indicators in pocket size
MNP/Milieu and NatuurCompendium 2008: Koelwaterverbruik en warmtelozing door elektriciteitscentrales, 1981-2005 and Waterverbruik door elektriciteitscentrales, 1976-2005. Available at
OECD (2008): Environmental Performance of Agriculture in OECD countries since 1990, Paris, France,3343,en_2649_33793_40671178_1_1_1_1,00.html
Penov I. (2002): The use of irrigation water during transition in Bulgaria's Plovdiv region. CEESA Discussion Paper No 7/2002
Plan Bleu, 2004. L'eau des Méditerranéens : situation et perspectives. Margat Jean, avec la collaboration de Sébastien Treyer.
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.
Siebert, S.; Hoogeveen, J.; Frenken, K. (2006): Irrigation in Africa, Europe and Latin America, Update of the Digital Global Map of Irrigation Areas to Version 4, available at:
UNEP: United Nations Environment Programme (
WWF 2004: Freshwater and Tourism in the Mediterranean. By Lucia De Stefano.
YWSL 1997. Establishing the economic level of leakage, Yorkshire Water Services Limited, UK.

Data sources

More information about this indicator

See this indicator specification for more details.

Contacts and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Peter Kristensen


EEA Management Plan

2010 (note: EEA internal system)


Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled every 2 years in October-December (Q4)


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