Clean water is life, health, food, leisure, energy…

Water covers more than 70 % of Earth’s surface. It was in water that life on Earth started, so it is not surprising that all living things on our blue planet need water. Water is in fact many things: it is a vital need, a home, a local and global resource, a transport corridor and a climate regulator. And, over the last two centuries, it has become the end of the journey for many pollutants released to nature and a newly discovered mine rich in minerals to be exploited. To continue enjoying the benefits of clean water and healthy oceans and rivers, we need to fundamentally change the way we use and treat water.

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Water use in Europe — Quantity and quality face big challenges

Europeans use billions of cubic metres of water every year not only for drinking water, but also for use in farming, manufacturing, heating and cooling, tourism and other service sectors. With thousands of freshwater lakes, rivers and underground water sources available, the supply of water in Europe may seem limitless. But population growth, urbanisation, pollution and the effects of climate change, such as persistent droughts, are putting a huge strain on Europe’s water supplies and on its quality.

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Life under water faces serious threats

Life in Europe’s freshwater bodies and regional seas is not doing well. The poor state of ecosystems has a direct impact on many animals and plants living in water, and it affects other species and humans, depending on clean water. The state of Europe’s seas is dire, mainly due to overfishing and climate change, while freshwater bodies suffer from excess nutrients and altered habitats. Chemical pollution negatively impacts both freshwater and marine environments.

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Close up — An ocean of plastics

Mass-produced plastics were introduced around the middle of the last century as a miracle material — light, mouldable, durable and strong. Since then, the production of plastics has increased rapidly, bringing many benefits to society. Now, some 70 years later, annual plastics production is more than 300 million tonnes, and we have begun to understand the true legacy of these products: they never fully ‘disappear’ from the environment.

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Climate change and water — Warmer oceans, flooding and droughts

Climate change is increasing the pressure on water bodies. From floods and droughts to ocean acidification and rising sea levels, the impacts of climate change on water are expected to intensify in the years ahead. These changes are prompting action across Europe. Cities and regions are already adapting, using more sustainable, nature-based solutions to lessen the impact of floods and using water in smarter, more sustainable ways to enable us to live with droughts.

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Interview — The Dutch make room for the river

Nature and water go hand in hand. This is the thinking behind the Dutch Room for the River programme. This back-to-basics approach now serves as a global model in terms of water management and protection against increased risks of flooding linked to climate change. The most recent extreme floods in 1993 and 1995 served as a wake-up call, according to Willem Jan Goossen from the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management. We asked him what the programme represents in terms of sustainable flood protection.

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Close up — Water in the city

We often take a reliable supply of clean water for granted. We turn on the tap and clean water comes out, we use it and the ‘dirty’ water goes down the drain. For a large majority of Europeans, the water we use at home is of drinking quality and available 24 hours a day. The brief moment between the tap and the drain is only a very small part of its overall journey. Managing water in a city is not limited to public water systems. Climate change, urban sprawl and alterations to river basins can all lead to more frequent and damaging floods in cities, leaving authorities faced with an ever-growing challenge.

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Interview — Malta: water scarcity is a fact of life

Malta is one of the top 10 water-scarce countries in the world. What to do when nature provides only half of the water your population needs? Malta ‘produces’ clean water and tries to make sure that not one drop is wasted. We talked to Manuel Sapiano, from the Energy and Water Agency in Malta, about new technologies, water for households and agriculture, and the pristine bathing waters surrounding the island.

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Governance — Water on the move

Water is in constant motion. Water also facilitates the movement of ships, fish and all other animals and plants living in water. The health of rivers, lakes and oceans has to take into account water’s movements across geopolitical borders. Given this, regional and international cooperation has been deeply embedded in the European Union’s water-related policies since the 1970s.

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European Environment Agency (EEA)
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