Report on the implementation of EU water legislation: progress made, but still work to do

Posted: Monday 20th April 2015

The first communication and the two reports published recently by the European Commission show how water policies can be a source of green and blue economic growth, with water management technologies at the heart of eco-innovation. The EU Water Framework Directive sets a framework at European level that aims to ensure clean water in sufficient quantities for people and nature, and for use in economic sectors such as agriculture, aquaculture, energy, transport and tourism. The policy has helped develop a dynamic, world-leading water sector that includes 9 000 active SMEs and provides almost 500 000 jobs in Europe. But this growth needs to be supported by better policy implementation to achieve sustainability and environmental objectives.

Karmenu Vella, EU Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries said: “Water is the basis of all life: We need it for drinking and sanitation, to grow food, produce goods and energy. Its preservation is one of the world’s biggest challenges. In the EU we’re fortunate to have in place solid legislation that has steadily contributed to ensure good quality water. But I see no room for complacency: the Communication and reports published today show that Member States need to sustain and enhance action to implement the Water Framework and Floods Directives to benefit people, nature and the environment addressing pollution, excessive abstraction and rivers alterations. To this end, EU funding opportunities should be exploited to the full”.

The findings of the communication are part of an in-depth look at how member states are implementing EU water legislation. They come with a series of recommendations designed to encourage, for example, better water pricing, controls on water abstraction, industrial plants, and action on pollution from agriculture. Greater uptake of under-used EU funds is also recommended.

EU legislation has improved water protection. Problems of quantity and quality are being addressed. As a result most Europeans can safely drink tap water and swim in thousands of coastal areas, rivers and lakes across the EU. Flood risks have been largely mapped, and plans to manage these risks are progressing. But warning lights are also flashing: decades of degradation and ineffective management mean that good environmental quality for all EU waters is still some way distant. This in turn generates extra costs for water purification, and risks endangering human health.

Particular problems include excessive abstraction for irrigation around the Mediterranean and Black Sea, widespread nutrient pollution from agriculture, and changes to river flow as a result of poorly planned hydropower or flood protection, or measures to encourage navigation.

While significant investments are still required in many areas, an overview of the 2007-13 financing period shows that Member States have not exploited available EU funding to support water objectives, for instance to treat waste water or to reduce flood risks by restoring flood plains and wetlands.




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