EU legislation and UNEP programmes have had positive effects on water problems and upon the level of protection achieved. The initiatives now being developed in Europe will help to meet the new challenges of water stress. Four innovative approaches requiring new data and information to help support policy developments can be recognised:
- The integrated management and planning of water resources on the basis of river basins has been common for some years in parts of Europe e.g. Spain, the Rhine, France and the UK. Now EU and other initiatives are extending this approach to other countries so as to more effectively manage the links between water quality and quantity and human activities. A similar integrated approach urgently needs to be taken for large water bodies such as the Aral and Caspian seas
- There is a shift in focus from Facilitating Infrastructure Supply (FIS - dams, channelisation, pipelines etc) to Demand Side Management (DSM - water use efficiency), utilising the lessons from a similar shift in the energy sector.
- Full cost accounting for water and progressive pricing policies are being developed in response to the need for water prices to reflect the full environmental and economic costs of its supply and use.
- New types of policy instruments, such as frame-work directives, taxes, voluntary agreements and tradable permits are being developed in order to help deal with the integrated complexity of water stress problems and with the diversity of conditions in Europe. This development was foreseen in the 5th Environmental Action Programme of the EU.
For each of the above approaches new data and information flows are needed to facilitate proper analysis, public understanding and political agreement. Priorities for new information are: water quality and quantity (states, trends and scenarios), water use efficiencies, and on the costs and benefits of different approaches to the supply and use of water.