- Human-induced climate change has led to more heat waves and drought and is one reason for Europe’s growing water crisis.
- At the same time, demand for the resource is growing, with industry and agriculture extracting more water from the ground, rivers and lakes than can be replenished.
Who uses the most water?
- Industry uses half of Europe’s water resources, while a further 40% is hoovered up by agriculture and 10% by households.
Who is facing problem?
- In the European Union, water scarcity impacts 11% of all citizens. Falling water supplies can lead to households facing use restrictions. But the problem also impacts the energy sector.
- In 2022, French authorities had to switch off some nuclear power plants because river water used for cooling them was too warm. Last year, the dry summer also reduced hydropower in Norway.
- Farmers, though, who use large amounts of water for crop irrigation are also hard hit by water shortages and drought.
Solution for agriculture
- To use more treated industrial and domestic wastewater for irrigation and protect valuable freshwater supplies. Six times more waste water could be reused across the EU than current levels.
- New EU regulations on minimum requirements for water reuse for agricultural irrigation stipulate that EU member states must process communal and industrial wastewater so it can be used by farmers.
- Processing and reusing wastewater could cover all irrigation needs in EU countries with smaller agricultural sectors.
- Large industrial facilities already have their own processing plants, which often release water into rivers.
- Depending on the industry, the water is often even better than processed household wastewater.
- Using industrial and communal wastewater for irrigation can be risky if water processing plants don’t manage to filter out all pollutants. These pollutants could contaminate soil and plants.
- EU’s new wastewater regulations, saying it doesn’t include certain substances.
- Severe crop losses for the second year in a row due to a lack of winter snowfall in the Alps and low water levels.
- Water levels in rivers could drop further if too little processed water from industry and municipalities is fed back into them.
- Cost is another factor in whether more recycled water will be used in agriculture or not. If transportation from processing plant to field is too far, it’s not worth it for farmers.
- While the EU is promoting sustainable water use on one hand, its common agriculture policy (CAP) grants for irrigation may effectively be “incentivizing water overuse” by farmers on the other.
- Efficient drip irrigation is better than large-scale water sprinklers.
- Switching the crop; growing maize or wheat instead of rice.
- Also, Crop losses; with some switching to plants that can withstand heat and don’t need too much water, such as legumes like lentils and chickpeas.
- Maintaining the pipes; On average, a quarter of the EU’s freshwater is lost during transport to taps because of leaks and broken pipes.