Documents considered by the Committee on 27 April 2011 - European Scrutiny Committee Contents

10   Water scarcity and droughts



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COM(11) 133

Third follow-up report to the Commission Communication on water scarcity and droughts in the European Union

Legal base
Document originated21 March 2011
Deposited in Parliament30 March 2011
DepartmentEnvironment, Food and Rural Affairs
Basis of considerationEM of 12 April 2011
Previous Committee ReportNone, but see footnote
To be discussed in CouncilNo date set
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionCleared


10.1  According to the Commission, water scarcity (where demand exceeds exploitable resources under sustainable conditions) and droughts (arising from a temporary decrease in water availability) have now emerged as a major challenge for the EU, affecting both households and industries, and are likely to be exacerbated by climate change. It therefore put forward in July 2007 a Communication[43] setting out an initial set of policy options at European, national and regional levels.

10.2  This identified a number of specific challenges, including the full implementation of the Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC); ineffective water pricing policies; inadequate land use planning; realising the potential for water saving, and identifying priorities for water use; integrating water-related concerns into relevant sectoral policies; and the provision of high quality knowledge and information on the extent of the challenge. The Communication went on to highlight a number of future policy orientations, notably putting the right price tag on water; the efficient allocation of water and water-related funding (through improved land-use planning and financing water efficiency); improved drought risk management (through the development of management plans and of an early warning system, together with use of the Solidarity Fund and the European Mechanism for Civil Protection); additional water supply infrastructure; fostering water efficient technologies and practices; fostering a water-saving culture in Europe; improved knowledge and data collection (involving a European water scarcity and drought information system, and research and technological development).

10.3  In their Report of 17 October 2007, our predecessors noted that that the UK broadly supported the objectives of the Communication, and already had a well developed policy framework for water supply, based on demand management and the development of sustainable resources. On the other hand, it believed that the Communication was in some respects too firmly against the development of new water resources, and that an overly rigid approach might not make it possible to bring on new sources of supply to the required timescales.

The current document

10.4  This document is the third follow-up report since the earlier Communication, and summarises the actions taken by Member States in the period May 2009 — May 2010. It also flags up the Commission's intention to adopt by the end of 2012 a Blueprint for safeguarding European waters, based on assessments of the implementation of the Water Framework Directive (WFD), policy on water scarcity and droughts, and the vulnerability of water resources to climate change and other man-made pressures. As such, the Blueprint will assess both the implementation and achievements of policies and measures in place to protect water resources in the EU, and look forward at the evolving vulnerability of the water environment. The Commission also intends the Blueprint to include policy recommendations, accompanied by some new initiatives (including legislation if appropriate), to consider the links between the various aspects of water policy, including those relating to quality and availability, and to examine the need for additional measures in support of data collection and scientific and technological development.

10.5  The Commission indicates that the review will have the following three main building blocks.

Water efficiency

10.6  The report notes:

  • that most Member States have not implemented water efficiency legislation in relation to buildings, but that a Commission study has been launched to determine which regulatory or non-regulatory measures are needed to improve performance in this area across Europe;
  • the importance of reducing leakage as a means of increasing efficiency, and some of the measures taken by Member States: it also notes a Commission-led pilot project to analyse and quantify factors relating to leakage in distribution networks and to identify cost-effective solutions;.
  • the contribution of agriculture towards greater resilience to flooding and drought, as well as the pressures which many farming practices can place upon the water environment: it also notes that the Commission is considering including the Water Framework Directive within the scope of the Common Agricultural Policy's cross compliance provisions, once the Directive has been implemented and operational obligations for farmers have been identified;
  • that the Commission has launched pilot projects on halting desertification; in order to disseminate best practices across Europe.

Better Planning

10.7  The report looks at action by Member States to integrate measures on water scarcity and drought into sectoral policies, and notes:

  • that several of those where water scarcity and/or drought is expected to be most severe have not published River Basin Management Plans, and that the Commission intends in the Blueprint to report on how these have been tackled;
  • that a prototype European Drought Observatory has been developed to monitor drought indicators across Europe and display these on a map server;
  • the ongoing activities to develop trustworthy and comparable data to fill the knowledge gaps which exist in current water scarcity and drought indicators;
  • the Commission's intention to produce a Communication addressing the benefits of green infrastructure (including its role in water retention and mitigating the effects of extreme events).


10.8  The report comments that European funds and state aids offer an opportunity to meet the challenges presented by water scarcity and drought, and goes on to note:

  • that allocation of funding at European level should be consistent with the Europe 2020 targets, including environmental concerns and resource efficiency;
  • a number of recent Commission Communications which suggest how Cohesion Policy funding should be linked to the Europe 2020 targets, and regional policy funding used to preserve ecosystem services such as water quality and quantity;
  • that a Commission Communication in the first half of 2011 will address the difficulties in applying for the EU Solidarity Fund where a disaster, such as drought, unfolds slowly;
  • the emphasis which the European Investment Bank's Water Sector Lending Policy places on resource efficiency and optimising solutions;
  • the action taken on water pricing and funding at a national level (including extended water metering), and the analysis launched by the Commission of case studies on water pricing policies for the agricultural sector in selected river basins;
  • the need, following the CAP Health Check, for Member States to define the standards applying to farm level compliance with national authorisation procedures for water used for irrigation: it also points out that most already have such procedures in place, and do not envisage setting up water markets to address scarcity, and that a number have taken a water hierarchy approach in planning procedures when assessing the need for new resources (such as reservoirs or desalination plants).

The Government's view

10.9  In his Explanatory Memorandum of 12 April 2011, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Lord Henley) says that the UK has broadly supported the objectives contained in the original Commission Communication and the follow-up reports, and already has a well-developed policy framework for water supply, based on the twin track approach of demand management and development of sustainable resources. In particular, it has supported measures which can help consumers save water and enable them to identify water efficient products, and it views improved resource efficiency, including water efficiency, as critical to greening the economy and creating new opportunities for green economic growth.

10.10  As regards the building blocks for the proposed Blueprint, the Minister says that:

  • the UK has welcomed action at EU level supporting a more effective and informed market in water-efficient appliances and fittings in buildings, thereby helping to inform and change household behaviour;
  • it supports action on better planning, and will be fully implementing requirements of the Water Framework Directive in accordance with the timetable laid down, believing that both water scarcity and drought can be handled adequately by means of the River Basin Planning Framework, with no need for further Europe-wide legislation to deal with these issues;
  • the Common Agricultural Policy has a role to play in supporting a targeted approach to land management so as to deliver a wide range of environmental public goods, such as water resource management, and that its reform provides an opportunity to increase the effectiveness of agri-environment schemes delivering land management practices which protect vital natural resources;
  • the UK also supports in principle the Commission's proposals for fostering water performance technologies and practices, the emergence of a water-saving culture in Europe, and improving knowledge and data collection, and it has been actively engaging with the development of European indicators for water scarcity and drought.

10.11  The Minister concludes by drawing attention to the Government's Coalition pledge to reform the water industry so as to ensure more efficient use of water and the protection of poorer households, and says that it will publish a White Paper later this year to set out how it will take this commitment forward in England. He adds that the Welsh Assembly Government intends to publish a consultation later this year, which will highlight how it will take forward the approach for Wales as set out in the Strategic Policy Position Statement on Water for Wales 2011.


10.12  Although the summary of the action taken by Member States in this area between May 2009 and May 2010 would not in itself warrant a substantive Report to the House, we think it right in clearing this document to draw attention to the Commission's intention to produce in 2012 a Blueprint for safeguarding European waters, and to the main elements which it proposes to include in that document.

43   (28827) 12052/07: see HC 41-xxxv (2006-07), chapter 7 (17 October 2007). Back

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