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Managing water resources

EU legislation protects vital freshwater resources by managing the flow of rivers across borders.

Access to good quality water is essential for people, nature and economic activities. Large amounts of water are required to produce energy, grow food and manufacture everyday goods. Restoring waterways to their natural state is essential to ensure that fish, birds and animals get the food and habitats they need.

Water follows a cycle – it circulates continuously between sea, air and land, through rivers, lakes and the ground and back to the sea.

Under Europe's central piece of water legislation – the Water Framework Directive – river basins are systems to be managed in a coordinated way, even if different countries are involved. The aim of the legislation is to ensure good quality water around the EU by 2015.

A healthy marine environment is also vital. Marine pollution often comes from land, but it can come from sea-based activities or from the atmosphere. The Marine Strategy Framework Directive adopts a coordinated approach to managing human activities that have an impact on the marine environment. It aims to have marine waters healthy by 2020.Other EU legislation safeguards drinking water and bathing water.

To manage water resources properly, quality needs to be monitored closely. Member States check the state of their waters and draw up plans showing how they will clean them. These plans are stored in a central database called

WISE
(Water Information Systems for Europe).

As the climate changes, both flooding and droughts are likely to become more frequent in Europe. Water ecosystems could also change. We will need to adapt by becoming much better at water management.

It's clear that we need to do more to improve the quality and quantity of Europe's water resources, and make sure that people use it wisely. The steps we need to take are set out in a Blueprint for safeguarding Europe's water resources to 2020. The aim is to make sure Europeans enjoy sufficient supplies of good quality water for the foreseeable future.