World Water Day: Protecting one of Europe's most crucial resources

The EU needs to find effective solutions to the challenges faced by Europe’s water sector, argues Sara Cerdas.
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By Sara Cerdas

Sara Cerdas (PT, S&D) is a vice-chair of Parliament's Special Committee on Beating Cancer.

22 Mar 2021

Currently, less than half of the European Union’s water bodies are classified as being in “good condition” and only one of the four indicators for fresh water has made any progress over the past 10 to 15 years. It is essential that we invest in the application of water legislation, in the different Member States. We didn’t reach the goals we set for 2015, now we have to work together - and do quickly - to achieve the objectives by 2027 at the latest. We need to reinforce the European Union’s main policy instrument on water, establish a community governance framework for integrated water management, slow down the deterioration in water quality and reduce chemical pollution.

The European water framework has proven to be fit for purpose, but the implementation needs speeding up. There were, and are, a number of constraints when applying water legislation, caused by inadequate funding, the insufficient integration of environmental objectives in different sectoral policies and the excessive use of environmental exemption clauses. Therefore, we must ensure the protection of all aspects of water - surface, underground, interior and transition. And we must restore existing ecosystems in and around water bodies, reduce pollution in water bodies, and ensure the sustainable use of water by all.

“The Portuguese EU Council Presidency has put forward a specific priority on water, aimed at contributing to a reinforced EU-wide application of the Water Framework and Floods Directives”

Monitoring the adequacy of water legislation has highlighted considerable differences in application between Member States, in particular in relation to controlled pollutants and limits established in the Groundwater Directive. The integration of this Directive’s objectives needs to be improved in a number of different sectors, in particular in agriculture, energy and transport. It also needs to be better aligned with the strategies of Biodiversity, the Circular Economy, the Zero Pollution Action Plan, and with the Common Agricultural Policy. The next Multiannual Financial Framework should allocate resources for water conservation and consider the necessity of promoting ambitious actions and projects that contribute to that objective.

The availability of more data, greater transparency and information on water management, aided by coordinated work between local, regional, national and European authorities will contribute to greater and better management of river basins. However, it is essential that we raise awareness of the importance of this scarce resource. The Portuguese EU Council Presidency has put forward a specific priority on water aimed at contributing to a reinforced EU-wide application of the Water Framework and Floods Directives. It will also promote an integrated and inter-sectoral approach to trans-boundary water management, adapting it to climate change, promoting sustainable water use and improving flood risk management through better and faster information sharing.

There is an urgent need to find effective and immediate responses to the challenges faced by the water sector, particularly considering its direct impact on human health, the environment, biodiversity, energy production and agriculture. If there is no action, we will not reach the objectives proposed for 2027, resulting in serious long-term consequences for our environment and us all. We must work together to improve water quality standards, share synergies with EU Member States and achieve better results for a more sustainable future. We must protect this resource that is so crucial to life on earth.

Read the most recent articles written by Sara Cerdas - Time for Europe to close the health inequities gap

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