Europe’s freshwaters contain a number of pollutants including nutrients, metals, pesticides, pathogenic micro-organisms, industrial chemicals and pharmaceuticals. These can have adverse effects on aquatic ecosystems, degrading habitats and resulting in the loss of freshwater flora and fauna. Poor water quality can also raise concern for human health.
The Water Framework Directive, the single most important piece of legislation relating to the quality of Europe’s fresh and coastal waters, aims to attain good ecological and chemical status by 2015. For a number of freshwater bodies, substantial improvements will be required to meet this target.
Implementation of the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive, together with comparable non-EU legislation, has led to improvements in wastewater treatment across much of the continent. This has resulted in reduced point discharges of nutrients and organic pollution to freshwater bodies.
Implemented measures need to account for driving forces that could otherwise affect water quality over the coming decades, including climate change, increasing global food demand and an expansion of the cultivation of bioenergy crops. Such measures must also ensure that water, energy and chemicals are used in an efficient manner.
Diffuse pollution from both agriculture and urban areas remains a major pressure on Europe’s freshwater. Cost-effective measures to tackle both sources exist and can be implemented through the river basin management plans of the Water Framework Directive. Full compliance with the Nitrates Directive is also required.
Removing pollution is expensive, uses energy and chemicals, and results in the generation of wastes. Controlling pollutants at source, however, decreases their discharge to freshwaters and reduces the need for treatment. There is considerable scope for greater implementation of source control measures across all sectors.