"Figures show that our use of water is not sustainable and that 80% of abstracted water goes to agriculture," said Daniel Villesot, former president of Eureau, the EU's water and waste water industry lobby.
Eureau presented the first ever statistical overview of Europe's water sector on 23 June, hoping to pave way for policies on the sustainable use of water. It will try to convince decision-makers of the need to address these by reforming the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and focusing more on water scarcity and drought in global climate change negotiations.
EU policymakers need to reconcile the CAP with the Water Framework Directive. and the most important thing is to address abstraction of water for irrigation in agriculture, Eureau argued.
"No-one really meters abstraction of water for agriculture. So we need first to put a meter to measure the quantity of water used and then manage the quantity," Villesot said, adding that "as long as we are not paying the right price for water, we don't care about the quantity".
A recent report, by the European Environment Agency (EEA), also noted that Europe has so far concentrated on increasing water supply rather than exploring ways to limit its demand (EurActiv 20/03/09).
The report listed a number of policies to reduce water consumption, including making people pay for water according to volume as a first step. In the past, EU agricultural policy in particular has subsidised unsustainable use, the report noted.
According to the EU agency, the agricultural sector currently uses 24% of the water extracted in the EU. It suggests that educating farmers on the right choice of crops and irrigation methods can substantially reduce the sector's contribution to water stress.
The Eureau report provides an overall introduction to the water industry sector in Europe and a country profile for each of the lobby's 30 member countries.
While the profiles reflect the "great diversity" of the water services sector in Europe, the report states that in most countries, the agricultural, industrial and energy production sectors widely predominate use of water resources. Only Malta, Denmark, Luxembourg, the United Kingdom and Croatia are said to use more than 50% of water abstracted for drinking water services, compared to the Eureau member average of less than 18%.
Eureau expects that the statistics will help it defend the interests of the sector on various EU policy initiatives, as knowledge of the sector's figures will help it to quantify the impact of EU policies on the industry. "They help us know the size of the industry we represent and allow us to base our lobby on facts and figures," explained Eureau Secretary-General Pierre-Yves Monette, promising new statistics in three to four years' time.
The report was released during the European Commission's Green Week event, Monette said, because current climate change talks had not yet focused enough on water. Eureau is also currently lobbying for the establishment of a special water intergroup in the new European Parliament.