Water | WWF
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Across Europe, we are polluting our rivers and stretching water resources thin
According to the latest data from the European Environment Agency, 60% of EU rivers, lakes and wetlands are not healthy today. This is part of an alarming global trend, with WWF’s Living Planet Report showing that freshwater ecosystems are the most threatened on the planet, and that the species they house have declined by 83% since 1970.

In Europe, ambitious, holistic legislation defends these vulnerable ecosystems – the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD). Brought into effect in 2000, the law aims to bring the vast majority of EU rivers, lakes, streams, wetlands, groundwater, transitional and coastal waters back to good health by 2027 at the very latest. In doing so, it strives to secure the crucial benefits of healthy freshwater ecosystems – such as absorbing and storing carbon, filtering water, and acting as natural flood defence – for the sake of the health, economic prosperity and enjoyment of current and future generations.

But this law has so far been poorly implemented by Member States. They have even allowed the state of water to deteriorate even more through excessive use and misuse of the exemptions provided for by the WFD. Moreover, since the European Commission launched its standard fitness check of the WFD, it has come under fire from industry lobby groups and EU Member States alike, who are all pushing for a significant weakening of the legislation. If ever put into effect, these changes could wreak havoc on Europe’s freshwater ecosystems, and give the green light to many more destructive activities. 

"With intense droughts, heat and floods quickly becoming Europe’s ‘new normal’, smart water management - coupled with reducing emissions - can help us tackle the issue at the source."

Claire Baffert
Senior EU Policy Officer, Water

© Leopold Kanzler

What WWF is doing

WWF has worked on EU water policy since the establishment of the European Policy Office in 1989, including the negotiation of the WFD. 

WWF advocates for the effective implementation and better enforcement of the WFD in order to reduce diffuse pollution and over-abstraction by agriculture, and to minimise changes to the natural conditions of freshwater ecosystems through the unsustainable development of hydropower, navigation, and flood management infrastructure.  

In 2018, together with other NGOs, WWF launched the #ProtectWater campaign to defend the WFD during the ongoing fitness check, and ensure it does not result in a weakening of the law. WWF believes that the focus should be on fully implementing the WFD in its current form, which would ensure that the vast majority of rivers, lakes and wetlands are able to return to their natural state and be protected for generations to come. Over the course of 2018 and 2019, the #ProtectWater campaign inspired more than 375,000 citizens to call on the European Commission to keep the WFD in its current form, making the public consultation on the legislation one of the largest ever in the history of the EU.

Without full, ambitious implementation of the WFD in its current form, it will be impossible for them to secure enough good quality water for their citizens, nature and economies in the future. It is therefore the duty of Member States and the European Commission to see the fitness check of the WFD as an opportunity to strengthen its implementation to ensure no further destruction or deterioration occurs, and that the majority of EU freshwater bodies are, at last, brought back to good health by 2027. 

For our detailed recommendations to Member States and the European Commission on improving the implementation and enforcement of the WFD, please refer to page 7 of our report, Bringing life back to Europe's waters: The EU water law in action



Claire Baffert
Senior EU Policy Officer, Water
+32 492 73 10 92

Sophie Bauer
Communications Officer, Freshwater
+32 471 05 25 11

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© Seppo Leinonen / WWF

Weakening the EU water law: Industry's wish list

Only 40 percent of EU rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands are healthy today, largely due to pressures from industrial agriculture and hydropower, as well as other sectors, such as mining. 

Some industries have been coming together under the umbrella  of European and national associations to lobby for substantial changes to EU water legislation, the backbone of which is the Water Framework Directive (WFD). This report shows that, if ever put into effect, the changes would give these sectors the green light to undertake even more destructive activities, potentially causing havoc on our rivers and lakes. But, far from obliging these sectors to clean up their act, some Member States have compiled a strikingly similar wish list, raising serious questions as to where their true interests lie.