Water is essential for life and an indispensable resource for the economy. Accordingly, EU water policy focuses on protecting water resources. The EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) is designed to protect European waters, achieve good ecological status and enable sustainable use. To meet these objectives, it stipulates that water must be managed at river basin level. The 2012 ‘Blueprint to safeguard Europe's water resources' summarises achievements and identifies future steps.

Eurostat's statistics cover:

  • water resources (per year, long-term average)
  • abstractions from water resources by origin (fresh surface water & groundwater, other sources) and purpose
  • water use by supply scheme and by economic activity group
  • connection rates to wastewater treatment by type and level of treatment
  • wastewater treatment infrastructure
  • generation and disposal of sewage sludge
  • generation of aquatic pollution by source and its discharge by type of treatment.

Water statistics are also used in indicator exercises, e.g.  the resource efficiency scoreboard and the sustainable development indicators. Eurostat and the OECD jointly administer a questionnaire on inland waters designed to collect data from EU countries and prospective EU members. In line with the Water Framework Directive, data is also collected at regional level, to develop a smaller data set on NUTS2 regions and River Basin Districts (regions defined in terms of hydrology – individual or grouped river catchments).

As collecting data is voluntary for the data providers, the resulting data sets are incomplete to varying degrees, which limits their usability. An initiative to establish a legal framework for water statistics is under way.