Half of the EU's river basins will be affected by water scarcity and stress by 2030 if action is not taken soon, according to a report to be published next week. Despite ambitious goals set in 2000 aimed at safeguarding Europe's water, member states look like failing to meet a 2015 restoration deadline.
The ‘water blueprint' that is to be published on Wednesday (14 November) examines progress in member states' implementation of the landmark Water Framework Directive. According to a draft seen by European Voice, the Commission is ruling out new legislation apart from a proposal to relax standards for water re-use.
Instead, the paper urges, performance must be improved by better implementation and enforcement. For instance, zones designated as vulnerable to nitrates should be expanded. Cross-compliance requirements, as proposed by the Commission in its reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), would encourage better performance.
Member states were required to submit river-basin management plans to the Commission by December 2009, outlining action to restore freshwater sites to good ecological status by 2015. Based on information provided, the Commission estimates that only 43% of sites are in shape today, and only 53% will be by 2015.
Many member states failed to draw up the plans in time. The worst offender was Spain, which still has no plans for 19 of its 25 river basins. Earlier this month, the European Court of Justice condemned Spain for not meeting the requirements of the directive.
The blueprint is non-committal on the controversial issues of water-pricing and water-efficiency. In July, the European Parliament approved a resolution calling for water-metering to be made binding across the EU, taking social issues into account. But campaign groups such as Food and Water Europe oppose pricing, which they view as the commoditisation of an essential resource.
Austrian centre-right MEP Richard Seeber, who drafted the resolution on metering and heads the Parliament's water group, said he wants to see the Commission take a tougher stance on the lack of data on water status. “There is a huge difference between member states on the availability and soundness of the data,” he said.
The most widespread pressure on water sites in the EU is modification through dams, hydropower or drainage for agriculture. This affects 40% of EU water bodies spread through 19 countries. The second most common problem is over-extraction.
The draft text envisages no new funding for the European Innovation Partnership for Water, which instead must draw from existing funding. This will come as a disappointment to water campaigners.
The blueprint will be presented – along with a fitness check on Europe's water and a water report by the European Environment Agency – at an event in the Parliament on Wednesday. The blueprint will be officially launched at a water conference in Cyprus on 26-27 November.