Vital ecosystems being damaged by water use

28th November 2012

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  • Water ,
  • Transport ,
  • Energy ,
  • Agriculture ,
  • Ecosystems



The energy, transport, planning and food sectors must work together to prevent "indispensable" EU habitats being further damaged as a result of unsustainable water use, warns the European Environment Agency (EEA)

More than 60% of Europe’s rivers and lakes, and 80% of coastal habitats have an “unfavourable conservation status”, confirms the EEA in its latest report. The agency also says that less than half are likely to be in a “good ecological” state by 2015 despite the introduction of the Water Framework Directive.

While levels of ammonia and phosphates in surface water are declining, the report reveals that nitrate levels, caused by fertilisers, will remain too high for “decades to come” unless efforts to combat the pollution are stepped up.

The report highlights the twin problems of increased incidences of flooding and drought as a result of climate change. The UK was named as one of seven EU member states with “poor groundwater” status, alongside Cyprus and Malta.

A more cohesive approach to water must be taken by policymakers and industry, concludes the agency, if the bloc is to ensure water security in future and protect habitats that provide vital ecosystems services, including water purification, food production and flood protection.

“Water is finite, and cannot continue to absorb limitless amounts of pollution without damaging the resources and ecosystems we rely on,” said Jacqueline McGlade, executive director of the EEA. “Farmers, planners and companies need to cooperate more to make sure that the combined pressures on ecosystems do not pass harmful limits.”

The EEA argues that sustainable water management must be fully integrated into the EU’s roadmap for resource efficiency and its 2020 strategies, as well as at the local river-basin level in decision making about land use and energy supply.

“Pressures on Europe’s waters are driven by the way agricultural land is managed, and by society’s need for energy, transport and urbanisation,” concludes the report. “To solve this problem we need to look at water and water ecosystems as one of the natural resources – like food or energy – needed in an economy.”

Incentivising sustainable water use, supporting green infrastructure projects and the restoration of habitats will all play a key role in protecting and improving Europe’s water ecosystems, concludes the report, as will more detailed and comparable information on member states’ waterways.

The EEA’s report came as research from British Antarctic Survey and the University of East Anglia revealed that the acidification of the oceans, resulting from increasing absorption of manmade CO2, is thinning the shells of marine snails.

Lead author, Nina Bednaršek, confirmed: “We know that the seawater becomes more corrosive to aragonite shells below 1000m. However, at one of our sampling sites, we discovered that this point was reached at 200m depth.

“The corrosive properties of the water caused shells of live animals to be severely dissolved ... Ocean acidification, resulting from the addition of human-induced carbon dioxide, contributed to this dissolution.”


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