by European Environment Agency
Progress is being made in improving the quality and quantity of Europe ’s water resources, particularly in the European Union. Much of this improvement has been made through measures aimed at reducing the pressures on Europe’s water from households and industry, often introduced through European policy initiatives. However, many of Europe’s groundwater bodies, rivers, lakes, estuaries, and coastal and marine waters are still significantly impacted by human activities. For example, pollutant concentrations remain above, and water levels below, natural or sustainable levels. In many parts of Europe this leads to a degradation of aquatic ecosystems and dependent terrestrial ecosystems such as wetlands, and to drinking and bathing water that sometimes fail human health standards.
The EU water framework directive represents a major advance in European policy with the concepts of ecological status and water management at the river basin level being included in a legislative framework for the first time. Ecological status must include an assessment of the biological communities, habitat and hydrological characteristics of water bodies as well as the traditional physico-chemical determinands. For the first time, measures will have to be targeted at maintaining sustainable water levels and flows and at maintaining and restoring riparian habitats.
The success of the water framework directive in achieving its objectives will be dependent on proper implementation by countries.The European Commission is therefore developing a common implementation strategy for the new directive with EU Member States and accession countries.
The achievement of good ecological status for surface waters and good groundwater status will require Foreword measures aimed at the agricultural sector in particular. Agriculture has a significant, and in many areas the most significant, impact on Europe ’s waters. This is reflected, for example, in the continued high concentrations of nitrates and pesticides in surface and groundwaters and in the over-abstraction of water resources for irrigation. It is now recognised that environmental protection needs to be integrated into sectoral policies and legislation (such as the common agriculture policy).
Another area of concern is the lack of appropriate and adequate information on the effects of many chemical substances on aquatic life and human health. Thousands of chemicals are being produced in, and used by, modern society. Many end up in the aquatic environment. Most have not had formal risk assessments, as progress has been very slow in assessing existing chemicals, which is required by legislation. In particular, there is a growing awareness of the issue of chemicals with endocrine mimicking effects.
The EU will incorporate the 10 acceding countries in 2004. Water quality in the acceding countries is often different from that in current 15 EU Member States, reflecting differences in the socio-economic structures and development of the regions. For example, there is less polluting agriculture but poorer wastewater treatment in the acceding countries than in EU Member States. Industry and agriculture has generally been in decline in the acceding countries during the transition to market-oriented economies. Agricultural practices are not so intensive in these countries as in current EU Member States. If acceding countries aim to achieve EU levels of agricultural production then, potentially, water quality and quantity will deteriorate, e.g. nitrate concentrations in surface and groundwaters will increase, as will the nitrate load on Europe’s seas. It is, therefore, essential that the development of the economies of acceding countries within the EU is accompanied by the appropriate development and implementation of measures that safeguard the future quality and quantity of water in these countries.
It is my hope that this report provides an overview of the current issues affecting Europe’s water and some insights into how it can be better protected and restored in future.
Interim Executive Director
The full report is available: click here