Water use in urban areas
Assessment made on 01 Oct 2003
ClassificationWater (Primary theme)
- WQ 02e
Policy issue: Is the use of water by sectors sustainable?
Urban water use has decreased in the 1990s in many European countries as a result of measures to reduce demand and because of economic restructuring.
Urban water use is highest in western southern countries largely reflecting the warmer climate in this part of Europe.
Increased urbanisation, population growth and living standards have been major drivers in the increase of urban water use in the past century. The amount of urban water use depends on climate, level and efficiency of public supply services, patterns and habits of water use by the population, technological changes (for example, water saving technologies and use of alternative sources) and socioeconomic instruments. The connection of populations to water supply systems has also increased over recent decades, especially in southern countries. Urban water use is not evenly distributed over time as households and services tend to demand more water in hot and dry periods. There are also seasonal variations in population, due to tourism, that influence the amount of water used at a particular time. At the same time, population density varies over regions and countries. Yearly country aggregated figures do not reflect these seasonal and regional variations.
In western and accession countries, urban use (households and industries connected to public water supply) of water is around 100 m3/capita/year. In general, western southern countries have the highest urban water use per capita and southern accession countries the lowest (Figure 5.10). Urban water use has shown a small decrease in all country groupings between 1993 and 1999 except for western southern countries where it has remained relatively steady. The relative high use in western southern countries reflects their hot climate (increase in water for showering, garden use, public services etc.), and the changes in lifestyle associated with increasing urbanisation.
In some western countries, water use fell during the 1990s as a result of focus on water saving, increasing metering, and the use of economic instruments (water charges and tariffs). In other western countries, urban water use has continued to increase as a result of more people being connected to water supply systems, more households and changes to more water-consuming lifestyles (more washing machines, baths, swimming pools, etc.) The decreasing trend during the 1990s, in central accession countries, is mainly due to the general socioeconomic and institutional framework changes. For example, in Hungary some of the water supply companies have been privatised leading to relatively high water prices and a decrease in urban water use.
Similarly in the Czech Republic, the water industry has been transferred from the State to municipalities with different forms of ownership, and water charges applied. In the Baltic States, meters were installed in private houses, higher water tariffs applied and renovation of old pipe systems carried out; all these measures have reduced urban water use. Bulgaria and Romania have relatively high urban water use per capita because of breakdowns in water-supply networks, lack of water metering, water losses and water wastage.
The largest amount of household water used is found in Spain with 265 l/capita/day (Figure 5.11), followed by Norway (224 l/ capita/day), Netherlands (218 l/capita/day and France (164 l/capita/day). Lithuania, Estonia and Belgium with 85, 100 and 115 l/ capita/day, respectively, have the lowest household water use in those European countries with available information.
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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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