EC water efficiency guidance urges compulsory metering

Tue, 24/07/2007

The European Commission has issued a communication on moving the EU towards a water-efficient and water-saving economy that sets out initial policy options including compulsory metering and a water efficiency drive.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: ‘Access to water in sufficient quantity is fundamental to the daily lives of human beings and many economic activities. The major impacts of water scarcity and droughts are expected to be made worse by climate change.

‘We thus need an integrated approach on water because sustainable water use is absolutely vital if we are to ensure that enough water is available to all European citizens and economic activities.’

EU member states must take an integrated approach, which is likely to deliver better results than targeting a single issue, the paper notes. States must put the right price on water, with the ‘user pays’ principle becoming the rule.

They should also promote water savings and water efficiency and adapt economic activities to the amount of water available locally, it added.

Over the past 30 years droughts have dramatically increased in number and intensity, and have cost the European economy at least €100 billion ($137 billion). If temperatures keep rising and no clear mitigation strategy is adopted, the water situation may deteriorate further, the EC experts warned.

Europe is currently wasting some 20% of available water, with recent data indicating this figure is likely to rise to 40%, the commission said.

Commission experts have said that a water saving policy needs to be created, like the one created for energy, and accused member states of dragging their feet in implementing EU rules on water pricing.

‘Substantial changes’ are therefore needed, which should include ‘essential’ efforts to introduce compulsory metering programmes as well as the promotion of water-saving devices on taps, shower heads and toilets, the EC added.

On a larger scale, a proper allocation of water use between economic sectors needs to be considered. Policy-making should be based on a clear ‘water hierarchy’, meaning that water saving must become the priority.

Effective water pricing and cost-effective measures for improving water demand management should also be considered before opting for additional water infrastructures.

This means that the integration of water sustainability and sustainable land use must become an integral part of policy making in areas such as agriculture and tourism. All activities should be adapted to the amount of water available locally.