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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 Dec 2010

Use of freshwater resources (CSI 018/WAT 001) - Assessment published Dec 2010

Indicator Assessment Created 23 Sep 2010 Published 17 Dec 2010 Last modified 15 Jun 2015, 03:46 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

Over the last 10-17 years the Water Exploitation Index (WEI) decreased in 24 EEA countries (Fig.1), as a result of water saving and water efficiency measures.
Total water abstraction decreased about 12 %, but one fifth  of Europe's population still lives in water-stressed countries (approx. 113 million inhabitants).

Water exploitation index (WEI).

Note: Annual total water abstraction as a percentage of available long-term freshwater resources around 1990 (WEI-90) compared to latest year available (1998–2007) (WEI-Latest Year).

Data source:

Eurostat

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 %, indicating unsustainable water use.

In Europe there are five countries that can be considered water-stressed based on the Eurostat data available for the period 1998-2007 (Cyprus, Belgium, Spain, Italy and Malta), representing about 19.5% of Europe's population. Based on the 2007 available data Cyprus (64%) and Belgium (32%) have the highest WEI. However, it is necessary to take into account the high water abstraction for non-consumptive uses (cooling water) in Belgium which results in its high WEI. Most of the water abstracted in the remaining three water-stressed countries (Spain, Italy and Malta) is for consumptive uses (especially irrigation) and there is therefore higher pressure on water resources in these three countries.


The WEI decreased in 24 countries over the last 10-17 years, representing a decrease about 12 % in total water abstraction. Most of the decrease occurred in the eastern countries, 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, Greece, Finland, Slovenia and Turkey) increased their WEI during the period 1990 to 2007 because of the increase in total water abstraction. The WEI has also increased in Cyprus from 1998 to 2007 (lack of data do not allow comparison to the pre-1998 period). It should be noted that since WEI is calculated on a country level basis, spatial variability can not be depicted and a low WEI in one part of a country can leverage a high WEI in another part. For example, Pinios RBD in Greece is severely water stressed, nevertheless this is evened out at the country level WEI. Similarly the regional WEI in Portugal is extremely variable per river basin (Sado RB 132%, Leca RB 82%, Minho RB 1%, Lima RB 5%) but at country level is averaged at 15%. 

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

Water abstractions for irrigation, manufacturing industry, energy cooling and Public Water Supply (million m3/year) in early 1990s and the period 1997-2007

Note: For countries included in the regions see Fig. 3 to Fig. 6 Turkey is plotted on an individual column in this graph to depict the large increase in agricultural water use, and to avoid the projection of this trend/effect on the Southern countries trend.

Data source:
Downloads and more info

Water abstraction for irrigation (million m3/year) in early 1990s and 1998-2007

Note: Eastern: Bulgaria (1990;2007), Czech Republic (1990;2007), Hungary (1992;2006), Latvia (1991;2007), Poland (1990;2007), Romania (1990;2006), Slovakia (1990;2007), Slovenia (1990;2007), Western: Austria (1990;2002), Belgium (1994;2007), Denmark (1990;2004), England & Wales (1990;2006), Finland (1994;2005), Germany (1995;2002), Netherlands (1995;2006), Norway (1995;2006), Sweden (1990;2007), Southern: France (1991;2006), Greece (1990;2007), Portugal (1990;1998), Spain (1991;2006), Turkey: (1995; 2007) Turkey is plotted on an individual column in this graph to depict the large increase in agricultural water use, and to avoid the projection of this trend/effect on the Southern countries trend.

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 public water supply (mil. m3/year) in early 1990s and 1999-2007

Note: Eastern: Bulgaria (1990;2007), Czech Republic (1990;2007), Hungary (1992;2006), Poland (1990;2007), Romania (1990;2007), Slovakia (1990;2007), Slovenia (1990;2007), Estonia (1998;2004), Latvia ( 1997;2007), Western: Austria (1990;1999), Belgium (1990;2007), Denmark (1990;2004), Finland (1990;2005), Germany (1991;2004), Iceland (1992;2005), Ireland (1994;2007), Netherlands (1990;2005), Norway(1990;2007), Sweden (1990;2007), Switzerland (1990;2006), United Kingdom (1990;2004), Southern: France (1990;2006), FYR, of Macedonia (1990;2001), Spain (1991;2006), Greece (1997;2007), Portugal (1990;2007), Turkey: (1995; 2007)

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 2002-2007

Note: Water which the industry abstracts directly from surface or ground water, in addition to or as a replacement for the public water supply. This excludes water abstracted for cooling purposes only, as well as all power stations. Eastern: Bulgaria (1990;2007), Czech Republic (1990;2007), Hungary (1992;2006), Latvia (1991;2007), Poland (1990;2007), Romania (1990;2006), Slovakia (1990;2007), Slovenia (1990;2007) Western: Austria (1990;2002), Belgium (1994;2005), Denmark (1990;2004), England & Wales (1990;2006), Finland (1990;2005), Germany (1991;2004), Iceland (1992;2005), Netherlands (1990;2006), Sweden (1990;2007) Southern: France (1990;2006), Spain (1991;2006), 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 2002-2007

Note: Eastern : Bulgaria (1990;2007), Czech Republic (1990;2007), Estonia (1990;2002), Hungary (1992;2006), Poland (1990;2007), Romania (1991;2007), Western : Austria (1990;2002), Belgium (1994;2005), England & Wales (1990;2004), Finland (1990;2005), Germany (1991;2004), Netherlands (1990;2006), Sweden (1990;2007), Switzerland (1990;2006), Southern: France (1990;2006), Spain (1991;2006), Greece (1990;2007), Turkey: (1994;2006)

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. In Europe as a whole, 37 % of freshwater abstraction is for cooling in energy production, followed by agriculture, 33 %; public water supply, 20 %; and industry, 10 % (Fig. 2). In southern Europe agriculture accounts for more than half of total national abstraction, rising to more than 80 % in some countries, while in Western Europe more than half of water abstracted is used for cooling in energy production

These sectors differ significantly in their consumptive use of water. Almost all water used as cooling water in energy production is returned. In contrast, the consumption of water through crop growth and evaporation typically means that only about 30 % of the amount abstracted for agriculture is returned.

 
Water abstraction for irrigation/agriculture (Fig.3).  Since the early 1990s there has been an 88 % decrease in water abstraction for irrigation in Eastern Europe. This was driven mainly by the decline of agriculture in Bulgaria and Romania during the period of economic transition, with poor maintenance and abandonment of irrigation systems. In the remaining eastern EU countries, the total irrigable area has declined by about 20 %. Water abstraction for irrigation in Western Europe is very low compared with southern countries but rises in years with dry summers.

Water abstraction for irrigation decreased by about 2 % in Southern Europe other than Turkey, where it increased by up to 36 % from the 1990 level. In Southern Europe there is a tendency to use irrigation water more efficiently with a higher proportion of the area using drip irrigation. Also, the use of recycled water in these areas has increased (EEA 2009). Although the main source of irrigation water is surface water, unregulated/illegal water abstraction, mainly from groundwater, need to be added to the high figures for water abstraction for irrigation in many Southern European countries (EEA, 2009).

Abstraction for public water supply (Fig 4).  A range of factors influence public water demand, including population and household size, tourism, income, technology, and lifestyle. Public water demand in Eastern Europe has declined by 40% since the early 1990s as a result of higher water prices and the economic downturn. A similar but less marked reduction in demand is apparent in Western Europe over recent years, driven by changes in awareness and behaviour and increases in water prices. In Southern Europe domestic use has increased by 12% and Turkey up to 59%.

Water abstractions for manufacturing industry (Fig 5).  The abstraction of water for industrial use has decreased over the past 20 years, 10% reduction in western (central & northern) countries, 40% reduction in southern countries and up to 82% reduction in eastern countries. In Turkey the reduction reaches 30%. The decrease is partly because of the general decline in water-intensive heavy industry but also because of increases in the efficiency of water use.

Water abstraction for cooling in energy production (Fig 6) accounts for 37 % 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. Abstraction for cooling water has also decreased, due mainly to the implementation of advanced cooling technologies that require less water. 

References
EEA (2009): Water resources across Europe — confronting water scarcity and drought. EEA Report No 2/2009, http://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/water-resources-across-europe 
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.

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:
soer2010 | abstraction | thematic assessments | energy | water | water resources | csi | water exploitation index | nature and biodiversity | synthesis
DPSIR: Pressure
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • CSI 018
  • WAT 001
Dynamic
Temporal coverage:
1990-1992, 1994-1995, 1997-2007
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 1.4.2 (note: EEA internal system)

Dates

Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled every 2 years
European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Denmark
Phone: +45 3336 7100