EU Science Hub


Water represents a societal challenge. On a planet where 70% of the surface is covered by water, only 1% of this amount is actually usable freshwater. In the European Union, water scarcity and droughts already affect one third of the European territory and yet, of the total abstraction of freshwater, 44% is used to cool thermal power plants and 24% for irrigation. As water scarcity and droughts regularly affect large parts of the European territory, water availability and its efficient use are also issues that need to be addressed in Europe.

Access the JRC Water Portal

The JRC supports several pieces of legislation including the Water Framework Directive (WFD) and its associated daughter Directives. In the context of the WFD, the JRC is actively involved in the Blueprint to safeguard Europe's water resources (the "Blueprint”) initiative. This initiative, which is part of the EU 2020 Strategy and the Resource Efficiency Roadmap, aims to ensure that good quality water is available in sufficient quantities for all legitimate uses.

The JRC provides scientific assessments to address societal and economic challenges deriving from the evolving vulnerability of the European and global water environment. In particular, it develops modelling tools to predict climate change impacts on water, assesses water governance in developing countries and carries out studies on the preservation of ecosystems.

Water and chemicals

Chemical compounds used in our daily activities can travel along rivers and lakes and end up in coastal and marine environments, where they can potentially threaten the health of humans and aquatic ecosystems. The JRC assesses and monitors the impact of pollutants and chemicals in aquatic ecosystems at regional and pan-European levels. To facilitate this, the JRC developed the Environmental Quality Standards (EQS) that set limits on allowable concentrations of aquatic pollutants.

Ecological water quality

In the early nineties, the increasing contamination levels of freshwaters led the European Commission to adopt a series of directives to reduce water pollution. The general objective of these directives is to achieve ‘good status’ for all surface waters by 2015.

Preserving ecosystems

Ecosystems contribute to the supply of clean water by absorbing or filtering pollutants such as heavy metals, excess nutrients, and pesticides and storing water that could otherwise lead to floods. Many ecosystems are vulnerable to climate change, land use reclamation, and pollution. Their degradation and disappearance negatively affects our well-being and threatens our economies. The JRC supports EU nature and water policies by mapping ecosystem services, developing robust modelling approaches to simulate future ecosystem scenarios, and assessing the costs and benefits of conservation actions.

Water Quantity and Efficiency

The JRC carries out several support studies and assessments for the EU’s Blueprint to Safeguard Europe's Water Resources. It has developed an integrated modelling framework that links land-use, hydrological and resource-efficiency models in order to evaluate different scenarios and policy options in terms of efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

Water-related Risks

Extreme water events such as droughts, floods and tsunamis have enormous environmental, social and economic impacts. Local and transnational disasters have demonstrated that efficient risk management is of paramount importance.

The JRC develops early warning, monitoring and damage assessment systems for weather-driven natural hazards. It also develops tools for assessing the effects of climate and land-use change, risk mapping and adaptation to extreme events across Europe and worldwide.

Coastal and marine environments

The coastal and marine environment is a major provider of goods and services, such as food, fossil fuels, construction materials, transport and recreation. It also hosts invaluable biodiversity that forms complex ecosystems which are threatened by human activities such as agriculture, fisheries, aquaculture, shipping, urbanisation and tourism. The JRC provides scientific and technical support for the implementation of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, which aims to protect marine waters.

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Coastal and marine environment

Water and Energy

While insignificant water quantities are consumed in renewable energy operations, carbon capture and storage requires higher amounts of water (for cooling and other processes) than conventional fossil fuel plants of similar capacities.

The transition to a low-carbon economy is one of the key priorities of the European Union. Essential to achieving this goal is the large-scale deployment of energy technologies with a low carbon footprint. Measuring the impact of such technologies on water resources is one of the JRC’s contributions to the EU’s Blueprint to Safeguard Europe's Water Resources and the European Energy Roadmap to 2050.

Water supply for agriculture

Water abstraction for irrigation purposes accounts on average for 24% of total water abstraction across Europe. Pressures on water resources culminate during the summer period when the irrigation demand from agriculture is highest. Intensive agriculture is also responsible for the degradation of the quality of surface- and groundwaters, including contamination from pesticides and nitrates. The JRC is actively involved on studying the impact of agriculture on the quantity and quality of water resources.

Water in development cooperation

EU policies promote an integrated framework for water resource management, drawing on European experience of managing river basins and transboundary rivers, and a whole range of European approaches to water and sanitation services.