IN-DEPTH: Concerns over water resources rising

A growing number of European countries are concerned about their water resources, with chemical pollution and climate change considered the greatest threat to the water environment.

That is the stark conclusion of the 2012 Europe-wide ‘Attitudes to water attitudes’ Eurobarometer survey, which polled 25,524 European citizens across the 27 EU member states to gauge opinion on whether people believe water resources have improved and the main threats to the water environment.

The Eurobarometer, which was last conducted in 2009 and aims to develop measures to tackle water problems, found that the majority of European countries are concerned about water quality, with nearly half (44%) of them saying they feel it has deteriorated over a ten-year period – leading to a call for EU action.

Despite the fact, respondents in the Netherlands (46%) and Germany (42%) were most likely to say that water quality has improved this was not a majority opinion in either country.

On the other end of the scale, just 5% of respondents in Bulgaria and Romania said they think water quality had improved.

Chemical pollution was ranked as the most commonly mentioned threat to the water environment, with 84% of respondents saying it poses a threat – up from 75% in 2009.

Climate change came in as the second most commonly mentioned threat to the water environment at 55%), closely followed by changes to the water ecosystem at 49% and water scarcity concerns at 46% – which the report notes has increased 15%.

As a result, two thirds of respondents have called for action to be taken by the EU to protect and improve water resources, saying that providing more information about the environmental consequences of water use would be the most effective method.

This was followed by a call to introduce heavier fines for water offenders (60%), the introduction of a fair pricing policy and higher incentives for effective water use (both at 57%) and stricter legislation (47%).

European Commissioner Janez Potocnik said the report illustrates how Europe’s waters are under increasing pressure from challenges such as pollution and climate change, adding that “citizens realise this and are asking the EU to respond”.

The report also examined attitudes surrounding the cost of water. It discovered that across the EU 42% of respondents believe water users should be charged for the volume of water they use to help offset environmental impact of water use – regardless of individual circumstances.

An equal proportion, however, thinks that there should be measures to offset potential negative social effects of these charges.

Swedish respondents were most likely to agree that water users should be charged for the volume of water they use with 79% in agreement, compared to just 51% of Hungarian respondents at the end of the scale.

The report also comes ahead of the release of the ‘Blueprint to Safeguard Europe’s Water Resources’ report, which is being developed as the EU’s policy response to the “continuing challenge” of delivering the EU’s water policy goals.

It is set to include a wide-ranging set of policy recommendations for future EU freshwater policy to appear later in 2012 and will draw on a range of ongoing assessments, including the River Basin management plans, and the EU Action on Water Scarcity and Drought.

Carys Matthews

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