Efforts to improve water efficiency and avert scarcity are hampered by illegal wells, lack of metering, and in some cases national opposition to tougher European Union standards, analyses of water allocation in agriculture show.
Without better oversight and water pricing strategies, scarcity could grow in European countries and even threaten the future of groundwater supplies in some regions, the analyses say.
Improving water efficiency is a central issue in the EU executive’s current review of the Water Framework Directive, with recommendations on improving implementation and enforcement expected by November.
The Commission has also proposed new efficiency and conservation measures in its draft of the 2014-2020 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
One such proposal calls for requiring that new irrigation systems achieve a minimum 25% of water savings in order to qualify for EU funding, replacing the current open-ended compensation scheme.
The European Commission’s agriculture directorate “has proposed that they are only funding irrigation projects where at least 25% of the water is saved,” said Thomas Dworak, a Vienna-based consultant and contributor to one recent analysis of agricultural water use.
The study was prepared by the ARCADIS consultancy for the European Commission. It cites the need for more comprehensive metering, monitoring and enforcement of water use and calls for a “paradigm shift” in the CAP and Cohesion Policy to promote sustainable consumption.
Globally, agriculture accounts for 70% of freshwater consumption while in the EU, the average is 24%, according to UN and EU figures. But in several southern countries, the figure approaches 90% – leading to rationing of supplies in the driest months.
Despite the challenges, farmers and national leaders are not standing still.