Water use by sectors
Assessment made on 01 May 2004
ClassificationWater (Primary theme)
- WQ 002
Policy issue: Is the use of water by sectors sustainable?
During the 1990s, there was a general decrease in total water abstracted, but with differences depending on the economic sectors and European regions.
Southern European countries use the largest percentages of abstracted water for agriculture (80 % in AC countries, and 65 % in Western countries). Irrigation is the most significant use of water in agriculture in these countries, being almost 100 %. Western central plus Nordic and northern Accession Countries use the largest percentages of abstracted water for urban needs and energy production.
The decrease of agricultural and industrial activities in central Accession Countries during the transition process led to decreases of about 70 % in water abstracted for agricultural and industrial uses in most of the countries. Agricultural activities reached their minima around the mid-1990s but more recently countries are increasing crop and livestock production (EC, 2002).
Water for agriculture, mainly irrigation, decreased during the 1990s in the southern western countries. The reform of the CAP in 1992 reduced production: the introduction of set-aside, putting in place of agri-environmental measures and the use of more efficient irrigation methods influenced this trend.
The increasing trend in southern Accession Countries is mainly due to the increase of irrigated land in Turkey and is expected to continue to increase with new irrigation projects. Data show a decreasing trend in water use for urban purposes in most of the European countries. This trend is more pronounced in central Accession Countries. In most, 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 water use. Nevertheless in most countries the supply network is obsolete and losses in distribution systems require high abstraction volumes to maintain supply.
Water abstracted for energy production is considered a non-consumptive use and it accounts for around 30 % of all the uses in Europe. Western central and western Accession Countries are the largest users of water for energy production; in particular Belgium, Germany and Estonia where more than half of the abstracted water is used for energy production.
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This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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