world's population has tripled this century. Consumption of fresh water
has increased sevenfold. Since 1970, the amount of water available for
each human has fallen by 40% and two out of five inhabitants of the
planet experience difficulty in obtaining water. Europe is not spared
this shortage. One third of the continent is under a threshold of 5 000 m3
per inhabitant per year - not only in the Mediterranean regions but
also in certain densely populated and highly industrialised northern
countries. At European level, 54% of water consumption is accounted
for by industry, 26% by agriculture and 20% by domestic users, but this
average breakdown may vary significantly from: one country to another.
The pressures exerted by increasing demand for water lead to over exploitation
of local reserves in many regions. Moreover, 20 European countries are
dependent for more than 10% of their supply on river water from neighbouring
States and this figure rises to 75% in the case of the Netherlands and
quantities taken by man cannot ignore the constraints imposed by the
natural water cycle - which is far from being the case at present. The
danger of over-exploitation is the draining of wetlands, lowering of
the groundwater level, even salinisation of groundwater in coastal areas,
and ultimately the desertification of certain regions.
With the problem being shared by all, water management has become an
important policy of the European Union in recent years. A complex problem,
it requires a mobilisation of joint research efforts. There are many
courses of action: monitoring and optimisation of use, purification
technologies, adaptation to institutional and cultural changes, implementation
of plans for the development and protection of resources, application
of solutions hitherto more or less ignored such as recovery of rainwater
and run-off water, desalination techniques, etc.
These efforts are all the more essential when predicted climate changes
pose the threat of major hydrological disruption, which is likely to
result in floods, droughts, damage to many ecosystems and threats to
water resources and water quality.
The wetlands play a key role in filtering water and absorbing surpluses
in the event of flooding. Around 50% of European wetlands have been
drained as a result of bad planning. The research carried out by the
FAEWE project (Functional Analysis of European Wetland Ecosystems)
is aimed at drawing up models for the management and protection of
these vital ecosystems.
Protecting aquatic ecosystems
WAtER is a vast network of thematic research on aquatic ecosystems and
wetlands. It coordinates some 20 multidisciplinary projects analysing
the complex operation of these areas, taking account of their regional
differences, their biodiversity, their ability to adapt to climate changes
and man's impact. The objective of WAtER is to produce tools for the
integrated and sustainable management of run-off water resources for
European land use planners.
When desertification threatens
Declining rainfall, over-exploitation of underground resources and changes
in land use have led to very worrying environmental situations in the
Mediterranean regions. Based on a multi-disciplinary approach, the EFEDA-Hydrology
project has highlighted the problem and its socio-economic implications.
Taking these results as a basis, the GRAPES project is now developing
policies for the rational management of water resources.
Protecting underground resources
Protecting groundwater is an absolute priority in the management of
water resources. A number of European projects are studying the problems
associated with overextraction, the infiltration of saltwater into coastal
aquifers, and pollution caused by agriculture, urbanisation and industry.
Solutions are being put forward for the preservation, restoration and
sustainable management of reserves including, in certain cases, the
possibility of artificially refilling certain aquifers.