Europe’s rivers, lakes and wetlands are not in good ecological health. While great strides have been made since the advent of EU environmental protection laws, specific action on water quality is still in its infancy.

Water is one of our most precious natural resources; vital for our survival and livelihood, our environment, our wildlife, and all socio-economic activity. Water supports farmers to produce food, hydropower to produce energy, and inland waterways across Europe connect cities through the transportation of goods. Freshwater ecosystems regulate water flows, purify waste water, regulate the climate, and mitigate erosion.

But worryingly, as a result of harmful human activity, the majority of Europe’s rivers, lakes and coastal waters have been degraded and polluted to the point where they can no longer sustain functioning ecosystems or their vital services.

European citizens want to be able to re-connect with their rivers and lakes and we believe that a better balance can be achieved between using Europe’s freshwaters for irrigation, energy, transportation and as a sink for pollution, and using them for leisure and nature conservation. Improved quality of life for European citizens as a result of preserving and enhancing Europe’s waterways will far outweigh any short-term economic benefits from the unsustainable overexploitation of our freshwater ecosystems.

The good news is that there is a raft of EU legislation which, where implemented fully, can ensure safe, healthy water for people and nature. It commits national governments to produce management plans for rivers, sets environmental quality standards for a number of hazardous substances in water, and regulates the quality of bathing water, the levels of nitrate run-off from agriculture, and the quality of drinking water.

The EEB campaigns for better implementation of these rules. In particular, we campaign for a thorough examination of existing dams and dykes to investigate whether they are really needed or could be removed or adapted in order to restore the structure of our water bodies to improve water flow, and in turn water quality.

In 2017, the EEB – alongside WWF EU, the European Rivers Network, Wetlands International, and the European Anglers Alliance – launched the Living Rivers Europe campaign to call for maintaining an ambitious EU Water Framework Directive.

We also campaign for River Basin Management Plans (RBMPs) developed under the EU Water Framework Directive to transparently look into the main causes of water pollution at river basin level and for measures leading to a reduction in these pressures to be taken.

47 %

the percentage of European freshwater bodies in need of restoration to achieve good status as of 2015

81 %

the decline in freshwater wildlife in last 40 years (Source: WWF)

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