© naturepl.com / Terry Whittaker / WWF
Living Rivers Europe
An NGO coalition fighting to protect water
Healthy freshwater ecosystems play an important role in providing society with a large number of services such as water purification, carbon sequestration, food provision and flood protection. And yet, freshwater ecosystems (such as wetlands, lakes and rivers) are experiencing the biggest loss of wildlife on the planet. Abundance of freshwater species has shrunk by 81% since the 1970s. 

Why this coalition? 

The implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD), the EU’s main legislation governing the management of its freshwater resources, has led to some dramatic improvements in water ecosystems and the wildlife that depend on them. However, the objective of the WFD of achieving "good status" for all Europe’s waters by 2015 has been missed by a long shot. Today, only 40% of Europe’s waters are estimated to be in good condition. Unsustainable agriculture, hydropower, flood defence and navigation are recognised as the main pressures preventing Europe’s waters to recover.

This is why WWF has joined forces with four environmental and fisheries organisations to form the Living Rivers Europe coalition. The coalition includes the European Anglers Alliance, the European Environmental Bureau, the European Rivers Network, The Nature Conservancy, Wetlands International and WWF representing a movement of over 40 million European citizens.

Our aim

First and foremost, we are here to advocate for the defence, maintenance and implementation of the EU’s strong, ambitious water law – the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) – in its current form. We strongly believe that it is the only way to protect Europe’s rivers, lakes and wetlands from further destruction, and to restore those which have already been damaged back to good health.

In 2018, the European Commission launched its “fitness-check” of the WFD, a process each piece of EU legislation undergoes to evaluate whether it is still relevant and “fit for purpose”. Faced with an alarming push from a number of industry groups and some Member States to weaken the WFD’s strong elements, urgent action was needed. 

This is why, in October 2018, we launched the #ProtectWater campaign. The campaign, supported by 130+ civil society groups, inspired 375,386 citizens to take part in the European Commission’s public consultation on the WFD (which ran from October 2018 to March 2019 and was the only opportunity for the public to have its say during the evaluation) to express their opposition to changing the law. This made the public consultation on the WFD the third largest in the history of the EU. The call went on to be supported by 5,500+ scientists, who sent an open letter to the new Commission calling on them to “save the Water Framework Directive” in order to halt and reverse the decline in freshwater biodiversity, and renew impetus towards the implementation of the law. 
On 12 December 2019, the European Commission signed-off the WFD as “fit for purpose”. This positive news concluded the two-year fitness-check, setting the EU back on course to bring life back to its rivers through full implementation and enforcement of the law. However, Living Rivers Europe will continue to ensure that Member States and the Commission follow through and that the possibility of revising the WFD is definitely discarded, and will work tirelessly for it to be fully implemented and enforced so that the vast majority of Europe’s waters are, at last, brought back to life.

Policy Asks

In the long-term, we are campaigning for:
  • A better implementation and enforcement of the Water Framework Directive;
  • An effective integration of water management aspects into relevant sectoral policies, particularly agriculture, energy, flood risk management and transport; and
  • The maintenance of the Water Framework Directive’s high standards of water resources and ecosystem protection.