2002: A year of striving to clean up Europe’s waters and avert future disasters

2002 began with a conspiracy to poison Rome’s waters, while programmes to protect the Baltic Sea and prevent Venice flooding received mixed success. A new irrigation system to halve water usage was proposed by plant scientists, while Nordic countries used popcorn to simulate an oil spill clean-up operation. Sadly the exercise preceded a real-life disaster with a crude oil tanker sinking off the coast of Spain in rough weather, prompting the EU to bring forward a ban on single hull tankers carrying heavy oil through European waters.

January brought good news of a record 70% of Ireland’s rivers classified as unpolluted, up 3% since 1997 (see related story). But a leaked report warned that 25% of privately-owned drinking water wells in Denmark were contaminated with high levels of pesticide residue (see related story).

Four people were arrested in February on suspicion of plotting to poison Rome’s water. The four Moroccans were discovered with large quantities of cyanide (see related story).

March saw calls from the European Commission for projects to enhance regional co-operation in sustainable water management in the Mediterranean (see related story), while Ireland launched a €8.25 million river basin management scheme (see related story).

Finnish scientists announced in April the results of satellite monitoring of water quality – such as algal blooms – in lake and coastal regions (see related story) while a May study recommended integrating urban water management into policies on sustainable cities (see related story). A Baltic Sea report showed the region was still suffering from mine and agricultural waste (see related story), and a group of scientists questioned the value of a flood prevention programme approved by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to protect Venice (see related story). Wild Baltic salmon returned from the brink of extinction with stock levels reaching about 70% of the potential capacity for 27 Baltic salmon rivers, according to the Helsinki Commission (see related story).

Summer began with the promotion of Central and Eastern Europe as a rising market for the water industry business, with Bulgaria alone required to spend €4.1 billion on replacing half of its water supply network (see related story).

In July the Commission took legal action against nine countries for breaking water laws (see related story), and in August scientists announced a new irrigation method that could halve agricultural water consumption by watering only one side of a crop (see related story). Summer ended with a mock oil-spill clean-up exercise using popcorn sprinkled off the shores of Latvia (see related story).

September calls from freshwater scientists warned that the Water Framework Directive could leave Europe with biologically poor waters if ecologists failed to take part in the consultation phase (see related story).

In October the European Commission launched a fourteen step plan for cleaning up and protecting European seas (see related story), followed by a November proposal to clamp down on atmospheric emissions from ships relating to the sulphur content of marine fuel (see related story). But the same month witnessed the sinking of the Prestige oil tanker with most of its 70,000 tonnes of crude oil still on board (see related story). The disaster prompted December calls for an immediate ban on single hull oil tankers carrying heavy fuel oil (see related story).

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