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A Challenge for Research and Innovation


This section sets out the priority areas for EU collaborative research and technological development (RTD) and related initiatives (scientific and technological reviews, demonstration, co-ordination, etc.) - as identified by the Task Force "Environment-Water".

These priorities are presented (Point 2) as 10 "actions lines" corresponding broadly to the main actors groups/areas-of-intervention as related to freshwater management and use. The table in Point 3 is a "revisiting" of these 10 action lines according to the four preliminary "axes" set out by the Task Force when launching the consultation process.

1. Overview

The content - 10 high priority "action lines" directed at the main actors groups

  • Action Line 1 addresses the development of basic knowledge and tools for the overall assessment of the status and evolution of freshwater resources. It primarily is of interest to national/regional authorities involved in environmental surveillance and environmental policy development. However, the actions proposed are also of interest to water managers in general, essentially for overall orientation and benchmarking of their activities.
  • Action Line 2 is directed at actions on freshwater systems which typically need to be implemented taking into account interactions at the water basin level. It is primarily directed at the regional/local authorities involved in land-use planing and water catchment management.
  • Action Lines 3 and 4 address the crucial problem of pollution control from the perspective of understanding pollution mechanisms and threats and developing effective treatments. These action lines are primarily of concern to scientists and technologists engaged in the combating of water pollution. The actions prioritised are complementary, with improved understanding of pollution sources, pathways and impacts being instrumental in the development of, and for priority setting in water and wastewater treatment. Developments in water and wastewater treatment methods and technologies are of paramount importance for a whole range of water managers and users.
  • Action Lines 5 to 7 are directed at water operators and users in three particular management contexts: urban areas, essentially large cities with complex water infrastructures; agricultural settings, where the problem of diffuse water pollution is particularly acute; and industrial sites, where Europe is lagging behind in terms of water conservation and recycling, as compared to other industrialised countries such as the USA and Japan. Specific actions are identified for each of the group of actors, with the exchange of experience and best practices and demonstration being however an important element for all three groups.
  • Action Line 8 addresses the problem of people's perceptions, expectations and behaviour in relation to water, and of socio-technical, socio-institutional and organisational change in the water "sector". This Action Line is primarily directed at policy-makers and advisors and the various "intermediaries" involved in the implementing of alternative technological and management options, such as professional training centres, public relation offices and personnel departments of water companies. It generally complements and supports the Action Lines 1 to 7.
  • Action line 9 focuses on the role of the EU in the fostering of international co-operation in the field of water. Prioritised actions concern both the optimisation of research results from the perspective of countries which are not amenable to the technical solutions favoured in industrial countries; and, the demonstration of EU technologies and know-how as related to major water problems encountered around the world. The main thrust in this action line is to increase visibility and coherence of international co-operation initiatives undertaken by the Europeans, and higher "profiling" of the EU in global undertakings in the water field.
  • Action line 10 addresses the question of the promotion of water research. Information tools and concertation/co-ordination mechanisms are proposed which will enhance the efficiency of the European water research "system". This action line is primarily directed at water research managers and planners at EU and Member States level.

The Boundaries - limiting the scope, for the Action Plan to remain manageable

The Action Plan addresses most of the "burning problems" of our time in respect of the sustainable development of freshwater resources, and encompasses the whole range of research-related initiatives - from basic research to dissemination of knowledge and know-how, through technological development/adaptation, pre-normative research and the development of decision/management support tools. However, this Action Plan is not intended to cover all of the water research priorities.

First, it focuses on priority areas for EU collaborative undertaking, leaving out priority areas which would more appropriately be addressed by the private sector (typically, competitive, product/process-specific technologies whose development is primarily driven by the market forces) or by the national/regional research organisations. Second, whilst recognising the many influences freshwater management has on other compartments of the environment (soil, air, sea), these have been addressed at a rather general level, essentially through the need for incorporating existing knowledge into integrated water management models and other decision-support tools (e.g. monitoring systems). Third, the Action Plan does not explicitly address the research needs of the "in-stream" users of water (hydro-power generation, water transport, recreation). Similarly, it does not specify the priority areas for research and innovation in cleaner products and processes outside the water field (e.g. substitution of colouring agents in the textile industry; genetically engineered crops for in-built pest-resistance).

2. The 10 priority "action lines"

3. The action lines and the four preliminary axes set out by the Task force

The 10 "action lines" of the preceding section result from a process of intense consultation of the different stakeholders in the development of water research and related initiatives. Priorities emerging from such a process can be presented in many different ways. The option has been to organise the prioritised actions according to the main groups of actors (areas of intervention) as related to freshwater management and use.

The table which follows is a revisiting of this Action Plan according to the four broad axes for water research and development set out by the Task Force when launching the consultation process. The table is not intended to be comprehensive in terms of the different sub-actions, but rather to provide an overview of the contribution of the prioritised activities to the four original axes, corresponding to the main concerns of EU citizens:

  • combating pollution;
  • rational use of water;
  • combating chronic water deficits;
  • prevention and management of crisis situations.

As shown by this table, the clustering of the actions ultimately prioritised by the Task Force according to these original axes would have resulted in some axes (notably combating pollution) being much more elaborated than others, although not being intrinsically more important. It also shows that certain technologies (e.g. aquifer recharge) and fields of activity (e.g. socio-economic research, international co-operation) should rather be seen as encompassing a variety of objectives, whilst the corresponding basic requirements in terms of research and related initiatives are coherent and therefore best considered together. Furthermore, some indirect impacts are highlighted such as that of demand reduction on both the combating of chronic deficits and the prevention (and management) of crisis situations.

The need to cluster the actions in a different way than originally proposed was already apparent when first analysing the different contributions received (see Annex 1). This was confirmed when actually drafting the Action Plan. It is expected that this table shows how the different specific fields of intervention prioritised are actually contributing to the resolution problems and goals of general concern.



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