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Water Scarcity & Droughts in the European Union

Building blocks: Instruments for better planning

The 2007 Communication on water scarcity and droughts outlines that an integrated approach based on a combination of options would be the most appropriate approach for addressing water scarcity and droughts, compared to alternatives based on water supply or economic instruments only. Studies in this area aim to outline instruments that could be used to address water scarcity and drought through better planning.


Water footprinting and product labelling

Among one of the main policy options directed at managing water demand in the 2007 Communication is the development of a responsible and water-saving culture in Europe, prioritising actions related to the provision of information on water performance. To this end, the Communication encourages the inclusion of rules on water management in existing and future quality and certification schemes and highlights labelling as an effective way to provide targeted information to the public on water performance and on sustainable water management practices. 

The objective of this recently finalised study was to provide concrete input, through a review of current applications and use of case studies, into how the use of water footprinting and virtual water approaches, as well as agricultural products and foodstuff labelling and certification schemes could be reliably used in water scarcity & droughts policy planning and implementation and contribute to the upcoming Blueprint to safeguard Europe's waters.

The deliverables present the current uses of virtual water and water footprinting approaches illustrated with examples and a report on how the information on water use is integrated in labelling and certification schemes, how these schemes can be used to promote water friendly products and how water management related information could be better integrated in these schemes. A proposal for the content of EU best practice guidelines that provide specific recommendations for the certification schemes relating to agricultural products and foodstuffs as regards sustainable use of water was also elaborated.

The study concludes that there is still a lack of consistency, clarity and transparency with the use of the methods and as a result, care should be taken in promoting its use more generally, and especially as a tool to support agricultural products and food labelling, until some of these issues are resolved.

Scenarios of water demand management – Impacts at regional levels (April 2009)

This study explores different options of water demand management, considering alternatives beyond the introduction of new technologies, such as water pricing and land use planning. Based on five case studies, the socio-economic and environmental implications were assessed with a focus on the agricultural sector, public water supply for tourism and public water supply for households.

The study presents key findings of the case studies across Europe, with their related difficulties and presents several conclusions on the subject. For example, the study shows that a fixed quota for water abstraction across all River Basins affected by water scarcity would not contribute to achieving the local needs of a good water status in terms of WFD flows and abstraction reductions, not being enough in some cases and being excessive in other locations. Furthermore, the report highlights the importance of having in mind - when designing water prices - that economic impacts of quotas and water pricing on the agriculture sector depend on the type of crops, the farming system and the availability of alternative sources of income.

Regarding public water supply, the study has found that in general terms the required price increase to achieve significant savings would not be significant when measured against household income, although the cost increase may have an impact on low income groups. It is shown that it is mandatory to install and maintain low flow fittings and to perform a correct metering before implementing a pricing instrument.

Finally, the report identifies work that has to be carried out in the future in order to build a better understanding of the implications of water pricing and land use planning on water users. The impact of different policy options on global food markets, the issue of bioenergy crops, and the tools available to design water pricing policies are the main subjects that should be further assessed.

Guidelines for Drought Management Plans (November 2007)

A European network of experts on water scarcity and droughts produced a report in 2007 on drought management plans as part of the Common Implementation Strategy of the Water Framework Directive. This report was endorsed by the Water Directors of the Member States in November 2007.

The report sets out recommendations in preparing operational drought management plans to prevent and mitigate the impact of droughts on the environment, society and the economy. The report includes examples of drought management plans in place in some Member States such as Spain, the United Kingdom and Portugal.