Metering and pricing of water key to sustainable water use in Europe


Jacqueline McGlade,
Executive Director,
Copenhagen, Denmark — (METERING.COM) — March 20, 2009 – Pricing and metering of water is a key mechanism for achieving the more sustainable use of water in Europe and must be implemented in all sectors, according to a new report on the status of water resources in Europe from the European Environment Agency (EEA).

The report says that until now, most Europeans have been insulated from the social, economic and environmental impacts of severe water shortages. However, the balance between water demand and availability has reached a critical level in many areas of Europe, as a result of over abstraction and prolonged periods of low rainfall or drought. Reduced river flows, lowered lake and groundwater levels, and the drying up of wetlands are widely reported, alongside detrimental impacts on freshwater ecosystems, including fish and bird life. In addition, salt water is increasingly intruding into “over pumped” coastal aquifers throughout Europe. Climate change will almost certainly exacerbate these adverse impacts in the future, with more frequent and severe droughts expected across Europe.

In the EU as a whole, approximately 44 percent of water abstraction is used in energy production, primarily for cooling water, 24 percent in agriculture, 21 percent for public water supply and 11 percent for industrial purposes. However, there are strong regional differences and for example, in southern Europe agriculture accounts for more than half of total national abstraction, rising to more than 80 percent in some regions, while in western Europe more than half of water abstracted goes to energy production as cooling water. Noteworthy too is that the “consumptive” use also varies, with almost 100 percent of cooling water used in energy production being restored to a water body, while only about 30 percent of water abstracted for agriculture is returned.

The report says that achieving sustainable water resource management will require the implementation of a number of policies and practices, including water pricing, efficient use of water, awareness raising, and tackling illegal water abstraction.

To optimize the incentive for efficient use of water, pricing must be tied to the volume of water consumed, the report notes.

“We are living beyond our means when it comes to water,” says Jacqueline McGlade, executive director of the EEA. “The short term solution to water scarcity has been to extract ever greater amounts of water from our surface and groundwater assets, but overexploitation is not sustainable. We have to cut demand, minimize the amount of water that we are extracting and increase the efficiency of its use.”