Europe's freshwaters are affected by water scarcity, droughts and floods; by major modifications by dams, weirs and sluices, which reduce connectivity; by straightening and canalisation; and disconnection of floodplains. Different uses of water related to sectoral policies, including irrigation, bioenergy and hydropower, and inland water navigation, are affecting the quantitative status of water bodies and degraded water is affecting their ecological quality (see the SOER 2010 freshwater quality assessment (EEA, 2010b)).
Land-use practices and development planning have had major impacts on water scarcity, floods and modification of water bodies. Important wetlands and forests, which help regulate water, have been drained or felled throughout Europe. Rivers have been straightened and floodplains drained to allow for farming, urban development and transport. Our rivers, floodplains and lakes have been heavily modified for a range of different uses.
As large areas of Europe are affected by water scarcity and droughts (Box 1.1), the pressures on European water resources have increased, and there may increasingly be conflicts between human requirements and ecological needs. In many locations, water demand often exceeds availability, and the need for adequate water supplies to service vulnerable ecosystems is often neglected. Climate change is projected to exacerbate these impacts, with more frequent and severe droughts projected for many parts of Europe.
Over the past ten years Europe has suffered more than 175 major floods, causing deaths, the displacement of people and significant economic losses (Box 1.2).
To maintain and improve the essential functions of its water ecosystems Europe needs to manage them well. EU water policies aim to ensure that the rates of extraction from water resources are sustainable over the long term (EC, 2002; 6th EAP), and promote sustainable water use based on a longterm protection of water resources (EC, 2000; WFD).