Drying up: EU water scarcity must be addressed through better climate adaptation

Posted on September, 07 2023

Nature and people in Europe are increasingly suffering from a lack of water due to decades of water mismanagement and degradation of freshwater ecosystems, a new WWF study finds. River and wetlands are drying out, groundwater is being extracted beyond sustainable limits and reservoirs and hydropower plants are being constructed illegally and operated unsustainably. 

The study “Water for Nature, Water for Life” focuses on four case studies in France, Spain, the Netherlands and Bulgaria, but outlines that virtually all of Europe’s rivers have had their flows regulated by dams or reservoirs, mainly for hydropower, drinking water, or irrigation for agriculture. It calls for a new climate adaptation agenda that prioritises nature-based solutions to protect Europeans against climate hazards like drought. It also urges the swift adoption of the EU Nature Restoration Law to keep water in the landscape through free-flowing rivers, and restored wetlands and floodplains. 

“Many people across Europe have suffered from intense heat and drought again this summer.  For decades we haven’t had to think about our water supplies, but global heating is exposing the reality of water mismanagement. The EU must tackle water scarcity in its environmental and climate policies: If we don’t start restoring nature to keep water in the landscape - in floodplains, wetlands, free-flowing rivers and groundwater - we face a future of serious shortages for agriculture, drinking water and maintaining healthy ecosystems,” said Claire Baffert, Senior Water Policy Officer at WWF EPO. 

The study also states that current EU water legislation, mainly the Water Framework Directive, must meet its aims to: ensure a good quantitative status of groundwater; achieve good ecological status of surface water bodies and identify significant pressures from abstraction and flow variations such as dam construction. All of this must be achieved by the end of 2027.