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Energy, the Environment and
Sustainable Development

Sustainable management and quality of water



An Illustrative project

Water treatment and purification policies have long focused on contamination by metals. Waste Water Cluster, a cluster of five European research projects - including a detergents groups - is studying the worrying effects of organic pollutants introduced into aquatic ecosystems by industrial and domestic consumers. One of the results of the high concentrations of some of this waste, which acts like oestrogen, is an excessive male population on fish farms. The possible threat of such endocrine disrupters on other living organisms, including man, is still not properly understood and requires a particular research effort.


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Implications for society

A vital natural resource, water continues to be wasted and treated with little respect - despite its economic importance. Since 1970, the quantity of water available per human being has dropped by 40% and two out of five people living on the planet have water supply problems. This imbalance between needs and availability is leading to over-exploitation, the depletion of reserves and consequently to tensions between competing users, or even countries.

It is not only the southern countries of the world which are under threat. 60% of Europe's cultivated land contains fertiliser and pesticide levels which are dangerous to the quality of groundwater. The combined effect of peak water demand due to tourism and irrigation is also producing a worrying depletion of water reserves in some southern Member States.

Implications for the economy

In Europe, domestic water consumption represents just one fifth of total consumption; 54% is consumed by industry and 26% by agriculture. The cost of supplying the EU with water almost doubled between 1990 and 1995 (from 12 to 20 billion euros) and is expected to reach 30 billion euros in the year 2000. The global water market - in which Europe possesses leading know-how, particularly in building and managing water treatment plants - is expected to reach 124 billion euros in 2010.

Implications for Europe

Twenty European countries depend on the rivers of neighbouring Member States for more than 10% of their water supplies - and for as much as 75% in the case of the Netherlands and Luxembourg. This is why EU Member States have adopted a common water policy, implemented through directives designed to protect this shared resource. The "Urban waste water" directive, for example, requires all agglomerations of between 10000 and 15000 inhabitants to be served by an adequate water collection and treatment system by the year 2005.

Targeted fields of research
  • Integrated management of water resources and wetlands - Optimisation of technologies to treat and purify drinking water; reduced water use and pollution; process-integrated treatment of waste water at source.
  • Monitoring and protection of pollution of groundwater and surface water resources. Classification of the quality and quantity of surface water and understanding of the functioning of aquatic and wetland ecosystems.
  • Surveillance, early warning and communication systems. Surveillance of pollution sources; control and data management systems (leakage detection, stormwater management, etc.); systems for floods and drought assessment.
  • Regulation of stocks in water-deficient regions. Improved water resource management and prevention of shortages in arid regions.

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