Europe's Water Management Challenges

Report Suggests Land Use Changes And Nature-based Solutions

28 Sep 2021 by The Water Diplomat

The European Environment Agency (EEA) has released a new report that offers an overview of the key drivers and pressures at the heart of water management challenges throughout the continent. These issues put many European water bodies at risk of not achieving key environmental objectives.

By identifying the challenges at the European level, it is believed that key issues can be prioritised at the country and local level.

Problems include pollution from urban and industrial waste water, different and diffuse pollution from agriculture, and pollution from mining and dwellings that are not connected to a sewage system. It is estimated that about 22 Percent of Europe’s surface water bodies and 28 percent of the groundwater area are significantly affected by diffuse pollution from agriculture, both by nutrients and pesticides.

Additionally, about 34 Percent of surface water bodies are significantly affected by structural changes, such as stabilization of the river channels, development of water storage and hydropower, implementation of flood protection, or irrigation. Such structural changes affect river course and flow, which can have a major impact on the river and floodplain biodiversity. There are many different types of barriers, but it is estimated that for about 40 Percent of affected water bodies the purpose of the barriers is unclear.

The report warns that water scarcity and drought events are an increasing problem in many areas of Europe. An estimated 6 Percent of Europe’s surface water bodies and 17 Percent of the groundwater area are significantly affected by water abstraction, mainly linked to agriculture, public water supply and industry.

The EEA report “Drivers of and pressures arising from selected key water management challenges — A European overview” shows that a broad range of measures are already available to improve the state of Europe’s water bodies. The research posits that water retention measures, nature-based solutions and land use change measures offer multiple benefits.

Finally, the research suggests that better and more coherent implementation of the existing legislation — including the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive, the Floods Directive, and the Water Framework Directive — would reduce key pressures on water. The EEA calls on all water-using sectors, such as agriculture, energy, mining, aquaculture and navigation, to adopt management practices that can keep water ecosystems healthy and resilient.