Many European river basins and waters have been altered by such human activities as water abstraction, land drainage, and dams. These often lead to major adverse ecological effects and leave limited space for natural habitats. Because of these problems and poor water quality the aim of the Water Framework Directive to achieve good status by 2015 may not be met.
Water scarcity and droughts have severe consequences for many economic sectors. Over-abstraction is causing low river flows, lowered groundwater levels and the drying-up of wetlands, with detrimental impacts on freshwater ecosystems. Climate change is projected to increase water shortages, particularly in the Mediterranean region.
Over the past ten years Europe has suffered more than 175 major floods, causing deaths, the displacement of people and large economic losses. Climate change is projected to increase the intensity and frequency of floods.
In the past, European water management has focused on increasing supply through deep wells, dams and reservoirs, desalination and large-scale water–transfer infrastructures. Future water management will benefit from applying an ecosystems perspective, using floodplains and groundwater aquifers for storing water, making room for rivers, and minimising the environmental impacts of water engineering projects.
Europe cannot endlessly increase its water supply, we must reduce demand. Policies are needed to encourage demand management. Demand measures could include the use of economic instruments; water loss controls; water-reuse and recycling; increased efficiency of domestic, agricultural and industrial water use; and water-saving campaigns supported by public education programmes.
Good water resource management is required to meet the needs of a resource efficient future, sustain human and economic development and maintain the essential functions of our water ecosystems. The solutions lie in more integrated and sustainable water management, integration of water aspects in sector policies (for example, the Common Agricultural Policy), improved accounting for water efficiency and the full implementation of the Water Framework Directive and other water policies.