EU warns of permanent water scarcity in some regions

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Greater efforts on pricing and efficiency are needed to reverse the over-exploitation of Europe's limited water resources, argues a European Commission report on the EU's strategy to tackle water scarcity and drought.

An effective water pricing policy and water-saving measures are essential to ensure that Europe has enough quality water to meet societal needs and face the challenge of climate change, notes the second follow-up report on the EU's 2007 Communication on Water Scarcity and Drought.

The report shows that some member states have begun to suffer "permanent scarcity across the whole country". While the pressure point is currently in the south, with Cyprus experiencing the severest water shortages, the Commission expects water stress to spread to South-East and Central Europe (EURACTIV 09/04/10).

According to the progress paper, the problem is not limited to Mediterranean countries. The Czech Republic has reported areas with frequent water scarcity, and France and Belgium have reported over-exploited aquifers, it notes.

Delays in implementing EU law

The EU's Water Framework Directive (WFD) already requires member states to introduce water-pricing policies with incentives for efficient water use, but little progress has been made so far.

The Commission is concerned by delays in implementing the WFD in the member states most affected by water scarcity.

The deadline for submitting national plans for managing Europe's river basins was set for March 2010, but in some countries, consultations on the plans are yet to begin.

2012 policy review on water scarcity and drought

EU Environment Commissioner Janez Poto?nik said that the report highlights the importance of "integrating water policy into wider policy goals" at EU and national level.

The Commission is launching a number of preparatory activities ahead of a water scarcity and drought policy review in 2012. It notes that in 2010 the focus will be on efficiency, savings in domestic water use, the potential for savings in buildings, leakage reduction and water efficiency in agriculture.

The EU executive has already announced plans to table a directive on water savings in buildings by the end the year (EURACTIV 02/04/10).

Addressing the European Parliament's water intergroup last mionth, Marta Moren Abatwater director for the Spanish government, stressed that water pricing and defining the level at which the cost should be recovered is "not easy" (EURACTIV 09/04/10).

Questioned over her country's subsidies for water use in agriculture and significant price differences for water used by agriculture and households, Moren Abat highlighted that in some areas of Spain, the whole economy depends on agriculture , so if agriculture pays less for water than households it is "for specific reasons".

As agriculture accounts for two thirds of EU water use, the head of the European Commission's water unit, Peter Gammeltoft, suggested that addressing water efficiency in farming should be one of the priorities of upcoming reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) (EURACTIV 09/04/10).

He also noted that "legal abstraction still remains a big problem in some parts of the EU," suggesting EU rules for irrigation purposes are not fully respected.

In 2006 and early 2007, the European Commission carried out in-depth assessments of water scarcity and drought in the European Union.

Following this assessment, the Commission presented a set of policy options to increase water savings in July 2007. It also highlighted the need to improve the financing of water efficiency within the framework of existing sectoral policies.

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