March 22, is World Water Day, and the Commission joins the UN in calling on governments around the globe to raise the political profile of the importance of water quality. But 22 March is also an important date for water management in Europe, because it is the deadline for Member States to submit their plans for managing Europe's river basins, as required by the Water Framework Directive. Most Member States are making good progress in delivering these plans, although a small number of States have significantly less progress. A decade after the legislation was adopted, the Commission is reviewing its implementation and envisages, by 2012, a "Blueprint to Safeguard European Waters."
President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso said: "World Water Day is an important day for Europe's flagship water legislation, the Water Framework Directive, because today is the deadline for Member States to deliver their river basin plans for Europe's 110 river basin districts. These plans will be our key tool for achieving the objective of 'good quality status' for European waters by 2015. Europe has strong water legislation in place, and the challenge now is to see how it is working in practice. Rising demand from competing uses and the impacts of climate change are increasing the pressure on water resources. That's why we have scheduled a number of policy reviews that will help us develop – by 2012 – a blueprint to safeguard European waters.”
An integrated approach to water policy
The Water Framework Directive, adopted in 2000, establishes a European framework for the protection of all water bodies in the European Union – rivers, lakes, coastal waters and groundwater– with a view to achieving good quality water resources by 2015. As water systems are often shared by several Member States, the focus is on an integrated approach to river basin management. The Directive contains clear deadlines for the various steps required to move toward sustainable, integrated water management, and by 22 March 2010, Member States are required to deliver their plans for Europe's 110 river basin districts.
Most Member States have made good progress towards the delivery of the plans and have carried out the required public consultation process over the draft plans in the past months. But there are serious delays in a small number of Member States, a situation the Commission will monitor closely with a view to possible legal action.
The Commission will now assess all plans for 110 river basin districts and this analysis will feed into the 2012 'Blueprint to safeguard EU waters', together with a review of the Strategy for Water Scarcity and Droughts and a review of the vulnerability of environmental resources such as water, biodiversity and soil to climate impacts and man-made pressures.
A resource under pressure
European water policy also focuses on water quantity. The balance between water demand and availability has reached a critical level in many areas of Europe, where water scarcity is a growing problem. Droughts too are becoming more common, with more and more areas adversely affected by changes in the hydrological cycle and precipitation patterns. Climate change will almost certainly exacerbate these adverse impacts, with more frequent and severe droughts expected across Europe and neighbouring countries. The EU has therefore developed a Strategy on Water Scarcity and Droughts, and the European Commission is looking into options to boost water saving and water efficiency in the EU.
Background: World Water Day
World Water Day – 22 March – is an initiative that grew out of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro. On 22 March 2005, the UN also launched a new International Decade for Action on water. The Water for Life Decade 2005-2015 aims at giving a high profile to implementing water-related programmes and the participation of women. The UN hopes that the Decade will boost the chances of achieving international water-related goals and the United Nations Millennium Declaration