With water under stress in many parts of Europe, even in regions which usually experience a high level of rainfall, abstracting and cleaning water can have a high economic and environmental cost.

The EEA says a barrier to improving water efficiency in the region is flat-fee water charges, which are still common in parts of Europe.

Such schemes, where users pay a fee regardless of the volume used, do not encourage efficient behaviour, either in households or agriculture.

The EEA study, ‘Assessment of cost recovery through water pricing’, considers water pricing in several EU countries: Croatia, England and Wales, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Scotland, Serbia, Slovenia and Spain.

The report states that water should be priced at a level which both encourages efficient use and properly reflects its cost and should include all costs of purifying and transporting water.

In addition, environmental and resource costs of water use, such as pollution and the depletion of resources, should also be internalised into water prices, the report says.

Such charges should factor in lost ‘ecosystem services’ which also require water, for example wetlands carry out valuable services such as water purification and flood prevention.

The EU Water Framework Directive called for Member States to create incentives for efficient water use by 2010. However, it is unclear whether this has in fact resulted in any change in national policies.

In a statement to edie, EEA executive director, Hans Bruyninckx, said: “In many parts of Europe, profligate water use is a real problem. However, there is a lot of potential for Europe to cut water use by improving efficiency.

“Charging water users for the volume of water they actually use, at a price reflecting the true cost, sends an important signal – freshwater is a limited and precious resource,” he added.

Leigh Stringer

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