World Water Day: farming and hydro projects leave EU countries’ water stressed

On #WorldWaterDay (22 March), the deadline for EU Member States to submit their Second River Basin Management Plans to the European Commission, the EEB is warning that many EU countries are not taking their responsibilities related to water seriously.

Balázs Horváth, EEB Senior Policy Officer for Water and Soil, explained:

Half of EU Member States have missed the deadline for adopting updated river basin management plans [1] and many failed to bring waters into good condition by the end of 2015 [2], as required by the EU Water Framework Directive. This legislation is a good tool for progressive water management, but a lack of ambition at national level is slowing down much needed implementation [3].”

Horváth said that intensive farming is continuing to pose significant problems:

“Climate change projections show that water scarcity will get worse in the EU in the coming decades. However, instead of moving towards more efficient use of water, many Member States want to extend the use of irrigation thereby putting an increasing number of EU citizens at risk of water scarcity. Also, while water pollution has decreased in many sectors, greater use of fertilizers and pesticides means this not the case for farming [4].”

He added that there are also major concerns with hydropower projects:

“Likewise, by ignoring the sometimes detrimental impacts related to hydropower projects, EU member states are agreeing to allow areas of natural and cultural importance and free flowing rivers to disappear forever [5].”

Major new analysis published last month showed that at least two-thirds of the global population, over 4 billion people, live with severe water scarcity for at least one month every year and in January the World Economic Forum rated water crises as one of three greatest risks of harm to people and economies in the next decade, alongside climate change and mass migration. Various areas in the EU, including leading cities like London, were highlighted as living dangerously in terms of their water use.

Notes for editors:

[1] Belgium (except for Flanders), Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, Greece, Croatia, Ireland, Poland, Portugal, Sweden, Slovenia, Catalonia and Canary Islands in Spain, Gibraltar in the UK have all failed to adopt their updated River Basin Management plans, (document 4 – State of play of adoption RBMP-FRMP).

[2] Draft versions of the Second River Basin Management Plans that were subject to public consultation last year show that it is more likely that many water bodies in Europe are not yet in good status.

The Fourth European Water Conference in 2015 concluded that based on a European Commission screening of the draft plans: “A limited improvement in aquatic ecosystem health has been achieved since the start of the first cycle of RBMPs, with 53% of surface water bodies now expected to achieve good status, up from 43%.” But added that: “Delays in implementing key actions…have contributed to the lack of progress being made in some Member States.”

[3] The Water Framework Directive has contributed to important developments in water management in Europe. The Fitness Check of EU Water legislation, 2012 said that: “In recent decades, considerable success has been achieved in reducing the discharge of pollutants to Europe’s waters, leading to water quality improvements.” The progressive legislative framework is therefore in place, but many Member States are relaxing their implementation ambitions relying on a business-as-usual approach.

[4] The Fitness Check of EU Water legislation, 2012 concluded that: “The pressures reported to affect most surface water bodies are pollution from diffuse sources causing nutrient enrichment and hydromorphological pressures altering habitats.” Efforts to reduce agricultural pollution are also hampered because of the sole use of voluntary measures in countries such as Portugal, Belgium and Germany.

A recent French study on the cost of pollution states that while water pollution has decreased in many sectors, it is not the case for farming (page 10).

In Spain, there is an ongoing public movement against the Second River Basin Management Plan for the Ebro River as it would allow increased agricultural irrigation in the area, thereby taking nearly all the water from the nature reserve Ebro Delta.,,

[5] New hydropower plants in nature protected areas are causing problems from Portugal through Germany into the Balkans. Even though hydropower is considered as renewable energy, if not properly planned and designed, it can cause significant damage to ecosystems and nature. Extensive small hydropower development is planned in nature protected areas in a number of countries in Europe, putting at risk the last free-flowing rivers of Europe.

World Water Day: farming and hydro projects leave EU countries’ water stressed
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