Agriculture sector could help alleviate water scarcity, as lots of water used inefficiently in crop irrigation, European Environment Agency says; approximately 25% of irrigation water could be saved by changing type of pipe, channel used

BRUSSELS , March 16, 2012 (press release) –
Both the Joint Research Centre (JRC) and the European Environment Agency (EEA) have published reports on water scarcity to coincide with the 6th World Water Forum, currently under way in Marseille, France.

The World Water Forum, which began on 12 March and runs until 17 March, gathers stakeholders together to find solutions to water scarcity problems.

The JRC report, titled 'Current water resources in Europe and Africa', assessed available water resources and reveals that large areas in Spain and eastern Europe have on average less than 200 mm freshwater available every year, while the demand for water is 3 to 10 times higher. The EEA report, 'Towards efficient use of water resources in Europe', echoes this call for concern by highlighting that the EU's water resources are under considerable pressure and that things are set to get worse before they get better. The EEA warns that continued inefficient use of water could threaten Europe's economy, productivity and ecosystems, and makes the case for integrated water management, starting with better implementation of existing legislation.

The JRC report shows variations in yearly freshwater generation: from 10 mm to over 500 mm for Europe, and from less than 0.1 mm to over 500 mm for Africa. The report describes the existing uncertainties and points to further research that needs to be carried out for improved water management. The JRC researchers analysed available water resources, floods, droughts and water scarcity using hydrological simulation modelling. In Europe, most of the data needed for water resources assessment are already available, although access to these needs to be improved: for example, the JRC team note that the public availability of river flow observations needs to be addressed.

The EEA report highlighted the need to increase efforts to use water more efficiently in Europe: inefficient water use affects resources needed by ecosystems and people, both crucial to European productivity and security. Reduced river flows, falling lake and groundwater levels, and disappearing wetlands can have destructive effects on the natural systems underpinning economic productivity.

Presenting the new EEA report, EEA Executive Director Jacqueline McGlade commented: 'Water resources are under pressure in many parts of Europe, and it is getting worse. Agriculture, energy production, industry, public water supply and ecosystems are all important, and all competing for this limited resource. With climate change making water supply less predictable, it is extremely important that Europe uses water more efficiently for the benefit of all its users. Water resources should be managed as effectively as any other natural asset owned by countries.'

The new study reports that some water shortages have even led to drinking water restrictions in parts of Europe, and there is also increasingly intense competition for water resources. Across the EU, the agricultural sector uses about a quarter of water diverted from the natural environment, though this can rise to 80% in southern Europe. To boot, public water supply accounts for approximately a fifth of water use across Europe, with over a quarter of this amount being used just to flush toilets. Hydropower installations also change the natural structure and flow of rivers and lakes, with consequences for ecosystems.

The EEA notes that agriculture is one sector where easy efficiency gains are possible, as a lot of water is used inefficiently to irrigate crops. Estimates show that approximately a quarter of water abstracted for irrigation in Europe could be saved simply by changing the type of pipe or channel used.

At the forum on 13 March, Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik announced that the European Commission will publish a 'Blueprint to safeguard Europe water resources' in November. This document will set out an EU strategy and strengthen efforts towards water 'prevention and preparedness', with particular attention paid to people and natural ecosystems, and the balance between demand and supply.

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