Water Management

European Water Management Challenged by Climate Change

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  • Modification of water bodies is harming ecosystems. The extent of modification of water bodies – the ‘hydromorphological status’ – is also a problem in 52 % of surface waters. Artificial modifications such as dams or reservoirs can prevent plants and animals from migrating or reproducing.
  • Pollution problems in European waters. Nitrate pollution from agricultural fertilisers is the most long-term pollution problem for European surface waters. At the current rate of improvement, nitrate levels will still be too high for several decades to come, the report notes. Phosphates and ammonia pollution are reducing more quickly, due to better waste water treatment. This improvement is visible in the improving water quality at bathing sites across Europe – in 2011, 92.1 % of sites met the minimum standards.
  • Agriculture and other sectors are using water inefficiently. Water scarcity is caused by human demands exceeding the available freshwater resources, adding to the ‘water deficit’ during summer droughts in many parts of Europe.
  • Drought is increasing across Europe. The number of countries affected by drought per decade increased from 15 in the period 1971–1980 to 28 in the period 2001–2011. Climate change is expected to exacerbate this problem.
  • Flooding is becoming more frequent, especially in Northern Europe. More than 325 major river floods have been reported in Europe since 1980, of which more than 200 have been reported since 2000.This is partly caused by increased building in flood prone areas. Projected climate change is expected to lead to more floods in many areas.

The Trend: Responsive Water Resources Management

Solutions to many of Europe’s water problems have been analysed in the European Commission’s Water Blueprint document, published in 2012. The EEA report, launched today at the Blueprint conference in Cyprus, underpins the Blueprint’s recommendations and provides a baseline for monitoring progress.