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Chapter 33: The management of freshwater - The problems

A wide range of human activities can adversely affect the condition of the aquatic environment. Disturbances can result from a human activity in a seemingly unrelated area often far away from the impact site, and delayed in time. The great majority of issues involving European water availability and water quality are therefore most prominent in areas with high population densities, concentrated industrial activity and/or intensive agriculture. In addition, physical changes imposed on watercourses for construction of reservoirs, channelisation of rivers and improvement of land drainage have destroyed or are threatening many wetland habitats.

The close relationship between human activities and the condition and management of freshwater resources implies that conditions, except for widespread acidification, are better in the sparsely populated and humid Nordic countries than in the rest of Europe. Table 33.1 indicates that no marked differences separate the freshwater conditions in Eastern countries from those prevailing in Southern and Western Europe. However, it should be emphasised that there are areas of concern within all of the four European regions: Nordic, Eastern, Southern and Western countries. Habitat destruction through physical changes made to watercourses, groundwater overexploitation and contamination, eutrophication, toxic pollution and acidification are but a few water-related issues that can affect water use locally or regionally.

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