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Sound and independent information
on the environment

You are here: Home / Environmental topics / Water

Water

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Water is essential for life on our planet. Our ecosystems, society and economy all need clean fresh water in sufficient amounts to thrive. But water resources are under increasing pressure in many parts of the world, and Europe is no exception. We must improve the way we use and manage our water resources if we are to continue to benefit from the vital services our water ecosystems provide. More

Key facts and messages
Unsustainable fishing occurs in all European Seas and is threatening the viability of European fish stocks. 21 to 60% of the commercial fish stocks in the North-East Atlantic, the Baltic Sea and the Mediterranean are considered to be outside... more
Nutrient enrichment is a major problem in the coastal and marine environment, where it accelerates the growth of phytoplankton and can lead to oxygen depletion. Concentrations of some heavy metals and persistent organic contaminants in marine... more
Designation of coastal and marine sites as part of Natura 2000, although improving, has been slow and difficult. The conservation status of some coastal and most marine habitats still needs to be assessed, while 22 % of marine mammals are threatened... more
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... more
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... more
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. more
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... more
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... more
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... more
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... more
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... more
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... more
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... more
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... more
30 % of Europe’s fish stocks (for which information exists) are fished outside safe biological levels. more
The consumption of fish in Europe has been increasing over the last 15 years while fish catches from European waters have decreased. more
Where marine species and habitat types have been assessed, the majority are found to be in unfavourable or unknown condition; only 10 % of habitats and 2 % of species are found in good condition. more
The sea surface temperature changes in the European regional seas have been up to six times greater than in the global oceans in the past 25 years. more
The current reduction of 0.1 in pH that has occurred over the industrial era translates to a 30 % increase in ocean acidity. This change has occurred at a rate that is about a hundred times faster than any change in acidity experienced during... more
In Europe as a whole, 45 % of freshwater abstraction is for cooling in energy production, followed by: agriculture, 22 %; public water supply, 21 %; and industry, 12 %. In southern Europe, agriculture accounts for more than half of total national... more
Public water demand in eastern Europe has declined by 40 % since the early 1990s as a result of higher water prices and the economic downturn. A similar but less marked reduction in demand is apparent in western Europe over recent years, driven... more
Over the past ten years, Europe suffered more than 175 major floods, causing deaths, the displacement of people and large economic losses. more
A comparison of the impacts of droughts in the EU between 1976-1990 and 1991-2006 shows a doubling in both area and population affected. more
Each European uses, on average, 100-200 litres of tap water a day, but if the amount of water embedded in products (virtual water) such as food, paper, and clothes is included, water use is often 10 to 20 times higher. more
Despite improvements in some regions, diffuse pollution from agriculture remains a major cause of the poor water quality currently observed in parts of Europe. Agriculture contributes 50-80 % of the total nitrogen load observed in Europe’s... more
In northern Europe, over 80 % of the population is connected to municipal treatment works via a sewer network while in central Europe the figure is above 95 %. Elsewhere in Europe, connection rates are lower, although in the case of the newer... more
The quality of inland bathing waters – rivers and lakes – in the EU has improved significantly since 1990. In 2009, 89 % of inland bathing areas complied with mandatory values, while 71 % complied with the more stringent guide values. more
A substantial proportion of Europe’s freshwaters are at risk of not achieving good status under the EU Water Framework Directive by 2015 (40 % of surface waters and 30 % of groundwaters, in 2004). more
In 2008, ten of 12 waterborne disease outbreaks reported in the EU were linked to the contamination of private wells. more
Across the European Union, agriculture uses about a quarter of water diverted from the natural environment, though this can be up to 80% in southern Europe. more
Public water supply accounts for approximately a fifth of water use across Europe – and over a quarter of this is used just to flush the toilet more
Some estimates calculate that approximately a quarter of water abstracted for irrigation in Europe could be saved, just by changing the type of pipe or channel used. more
Water basin management should be more closely integrated with spatial planning. Costs can fall on those who do not benefit – for example, water pollution from agriculture in one territory that flows downstream to others. Also, benefits may... more

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