Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber) as one of the largest rodents in the world, It is well adapted to fulfil its role as a vital engineer of marshland habitats

Down by the river: governments set to miss EU water targets

Not enough is being done to protect and restore rivers, lakes and groundwater. That’s the finding from the latest European Commission analysis into how EU governments are planning to reach water protection targets.

So-called ‘River Basin Management Plans’ (RBMPs) are legally required under the EU’s water law, the Water Framework Directive, and they are reviewed every six years. They include objectives for each water body, reasons for not achieving objectives where relevant, and what measures governments are taking to meet the environmental objectives.

The Commission’s findings confirm previous assessments made by NGOs and highlight that while there is more knowledge than ever about why our water environment is in such a poor state — namely due to hydropower dams, disconnection of floodplains, altering the natural path of rivers, and pollution from industrial farming — political responses for solving these problems are hard to come by.

The report concludes that EU member states are not on track to meet their own goal of bringing Europe’s rivers, lakes, wetlands, streams, groundwater, transitional and coastal waters to good health by 2021 and 2027.

Sergiy Moroz from the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), said:

This latest assessment of Member States’ ambition from the European Commission shows that EU governments must do much more to properly implement and comply with Europe’s water protection law. It beggars belief that instead of focusing on how to improve, Member State officials are focusing on why it cannot be done and are now suggesting weakening this groundbreaking water protection law.

The EU’s Water Framework Directive is currently being evaluated and nature lovers are rallying behind the rules that protect lakes, rivers and wetlands through the EU-wide ‘Protect Water’ campaign.

Moroz added: “So far over 330,000 EU citizens have called for political leaders to prioritise bringing life back to our freshwater ecosystems, now they must listen.”

Given that only 40% of EU rivers, lakes and wetlands are currently healthy, Andreas Baumüller, Head of Natural Resources at WWF’s European Policy Office said that it is “hugely disappointing, not to mention irresponsible, to see that the most effective tool for protecting and restoring Europe’s waters is still not being used to its full potential”.

Baumüller also slammed Member States for “opting for the easy way out” by “pushing for the Water Framework Directive to be significantly weakened” during the European Commission’s ongoing evaluation of the law.

Presenting the assessment, European Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella said:

EU water law is a considerable success, reversing a long-standing trend of decline. But there is still much to do – most of Europe’s 130 000 water bodies are falling short of the high standards we need. I am calling on Member States to step up their efforts and ensure we deliver the quality that citizens need and nature requires, as soon as possible.”