Adopting the Water Framework Directive in 2000 was a milestone for the EU. The appellations of “good condition” or “good ecological potential” became the goals for all bodies of water in the Union, and today there is a high degree of consistency in national legislation aimed at achieving these common ambitions. What’s more, member states work together in their respective river basins. That is sensible. After all, water doesn’t stop at national borders, so why should EU water policy?
It is not all good news, however. The EU has grown from 15 to 27 member states since the Framework Directive was adopted, and many of the newcomers require a good deal of investment in water supply infrastructure and waste water disposal systems to catch up with the older members. Climate change presents another enormous challenge for the water industry, while demographic trends have huge implications for future patterns of consumption.
Perhaps the biggest task for policymakers, however, is how to integrate water policy with two other sectors – agriculture and energy. Energy and water are closely allied on many fronts: water is a source of hydroelectric and waste water power generation; it is a coolant for fossil fuel power stations, and potentially one of the most economical means of storing renewable energy, as hydrogen for example. In agriculture, crop irrigation accounts for nearly one quarter of all water used in the EU, a figure that rises to more than 80% in some parts of southern Europe. Continued intensification of agriculture, coupled with climate change, will inevitably push water resource management even higher up the policy agenda.
Ahead of the publication of the European Commission’s “Blueprint to Safeguard Europe’s Water”, the European Water Association launched its own Water Manifesto, outlining the core challenges for water policy today and making concrete recommendations for action. The Water Framework Directive deserves credit for laying the foundations of good, consistent EU regulations, but there is no room for complacency about the future of Europe’s water resources.
Johannes Lohaus is Secretary General of the European Water Association.