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 60% of Europe’s rivers, lakes and wetlands are not in good ecological health. Harmful human activity such as pollution from agriculture and industry, over-abstraction, and hydropower, have degraded and polluted the majority of Europe’s rivers, lakes and coastal waters to the point where they are unable to adequately support wildlife and provide vital services such as flood protection.

The good news is in Europe, we have a strong law that protects our rivers, lakes, wetlands, streams, coastal waters and groundwater – the EU Water Framework Directive. This laws also ensures that waters which have already been damaged are brought back to life, and by 2027 at the latest.

Where implemented fully, the Water Framework Directive 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.

But governments have not made implementing water protection rules a top priority. And now there is a risk that it they are weakened as the EU Water Framework Directive undergoes an evaluation.

Take part in our #ProtectWater campaign to tell the European Commission to uphold the EU Water Framework Directive and in doing so, protect Europe’s rivers, lakes, groundwater and wetlands, and the wildlife they house, for generations to come.

The #ProtectWater campaign is EEB is part of the Living Rivers Europe (WWF’s European network, the European Anglers Alliance, European Environmental Bureau, European Rivers Network, and Wetlands International), who together represent a movement of over 40 million people across Europe.


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 EEB campaigns for better implementation of water protection 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. 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)

Library for Water