4.3 Coherence of sectoral strategies with water policy objectives

In the EU, water bodies are used for a variety of economic activities, among which navigation for trade and transportation, agricultural and industrial processes involving water abstraction, hydropower production, extraction of minerals as well as aquaculture. From the assessment of status, pressures and impacts on European waters (EEA, 2018), it is evident that the driving forces behind the achievement or non-achievement of good status are activities in economic sectors. Recent policy reviews have shown that there is still much scope to further mainstream environmental policy actions into sectors to reduce the driving forces behind aquatic biodiversity loss (Rouillard et al., 2016).

We need to ensure that economic sectors drawing on substantial water use adopt management practices that can keep water ecosystems healthy and resilient. Managing water in a green economy means using water in a sustainable way in all sectors and ensuring that ecosystems have both the quantity and the quality of water needed to function (EEA, 2018).

Principles of sustainable water management have already been introduced in some sectoral activities and the WFD has played an important role in taking up sustainability aspects. Several sustainable sector strategies have been developed in the last 10-15 years to promote the growth of a particular economic sector, while drawing out a roadmap (or guidelines) for reducing pressures and impacts of the sector’s activities on water resources. In the following, a number of good practice examples illustrate how sustainable water management solutions can work in sectors.

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Agriculture represents one of the most water-intensive sectors. Excessive use of pesticides constitutes a source of diffuse pollution for water, while pollution from nitrates affects over 17 % of the area of groundwater bodies. The EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) regulates the main aspects of agricultural production across Member States. In terms of water, Art. 38 of the 2013 Rural Development Programme Regulation provides financial resources for agricultural activities to achieve compliance with the WFD and other environmental legislation. Recent reforms of the CAP have led to a general decoupling of agricultural subsidies from production and the implementation of a cross-compliance mechanism, whereby farmers must comply with a set of statutory management requirements, including those that relate to water management. A range of other measures to improve water quality have also been suggested in the CAP and national agricultural policies. These comprise increased manure storage, the use of cover crops, riparian buffer strips, wetland restoration as well as a lower use of pesticides in areas close to surface waters and groundwater infiltration hotspots. Overall, the water environment could benefit from more integration of water aspects in agricultural production.  The combination of innovative technologies such as drop irrigation and financial incentives such as water tariffs could be beneficial in saving water in the European agricultural sector. In this way, private action can contribute to a more sustainable agricultural sector.

Box 3 Restriction of pesticides use and other sustainable farming programmes

Belgium sets out different measures to integrate pesticides with sustainable water management (NAPAN, 2014). One measure focuses on restrictions in buffer zones, which are set at 2 to 30 meters depending on the size of the water and extent of land use.

In France, economically grounded measures have been set up. The French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES) has implemented the Ecophyto Plan which aimed to halve pesticide use by 2018. To that end, environmental taxes on sales of pesticides have been introduced.

The United Kingdom implements a catchment sensitive farming programme. The scheme investigates impacts of agricultural practices, relevance of applied measures and draws out best practices in the sector (Thorén, 2017).

In Ireland it is not allowed to apply organic or chemical fertiliser or dilute slurry when heavy rain is forecasted within 48 hours or when the ground slopes are steep and a risk of water pollution exists (Amery and Schoumans, 2014).

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Mining can lead to groundwater and surface water chemical pollution, as well as lowering groundwater tables and disrupted flows. These pressures threaten the status of water ecosystems well beyond business operations as discharge of pollutants is longer than the mine life-cycle. Measures which can be taken to address mining impacts on water resources (e.g. treatment and reuse of excess water, use of chemicals with low environmental impacts, barriers and drainage systems to protect groundwater) constitute generally the bulk of Best Available Techniques (BAT) to be implemented by the extractive industry. Interventions and principles are laid out in the EU Directive on the Management of Waste from Extractive Industries 2006/21/EC, which obliges firms to issue an extractive waste management plan (EWMP) in their licensing and permit applications. Acknowledging the impacts of mining on water resources and considering different measures to counteract these is now an integrated part of a variety of mining business activities (see Box 4).

Box 4                  Acknowledging water and environmental aspects in the mining sector

The European Aggregates Association acknowledges in a brochure on “Water management”[1] “that any extraction of a mineral resource will potentially generate qualitative and quantitative impacts on water resources” and describes the sectors role in relation to river basin management planning, including limiting the impacts on water quantity and quality. In other publications, the European Aggregates Association focusses on the gravel processing sites and suggests different measures focusing on reducing the impacts on water including recycling of process water.[2] 

In addition, Euromines, the European metals and minerals mining industry, promotes different activities in relation to sustainable development and environmental protection.[3] Euromines requires its members to perform an environmental impact assessment, as well as a continuous update of effective environmental practices. However, the guidelines developed by Euromines call for environmental protection from exploration to mine closure, while the impact of mining on water ecosystems does not end with extracting operations (Euromines, 2012).[4]

[1] http://www.uepg.eu/uploads/Modules/Publications/uepg_water.pdf

[2] http://www.uepg.eu/uploads/Modules/Publications/uepg-unpg-water-management-brochure.pdf

[3] ttp://www.euromines.org/files/what-we-do/sustainable-development-issues/euromines-sustainable-development-guidelines-jan2012.pdf


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Energy production via hydropower installations also impacts aquatic ecosystems by altering flows of water bodies, disrupting river continuity and causing degradation of ecosystems. Although the largest development of hydropower in Europe has already taken place, new hydropower plants are being development especially in the Balkan region and many more (especially small ones) are in the application phase in other parts of Europe. To balance energy production with the protection of aquatic ecosystems, several strategies for more sustainable hydropower projects are being promoted in different countries and regions in Europe (see examples from Sweden, Switzerland and the Danube in section 3.2.3 of this report). These give strategic directions for the revision of licenses of existing hydropower plants and for the further development of new hydropower in order to mitigate or prevent hydropower impacts on the water environment.

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Sustainable navigation strategies and guidelines are being introduced on the EU, national and even regional/river basin level (see examples of European guidelines and national or regional programmes and strategies for sustainable inland navigation in section 3.2.4). These strategies and guidelines call for sustainable navigation across inland waters through a variety of cross-cutting criteria and measures. These include preservation of river banks, stringent fuel standards, more efficient infrastructures to reduce navigation times and the coupling of waterways with external activities, such as sustainable tourism. At the same time, the Trans European Transport Network (TEN-T) seeks to integrate inland navigation among the sustainable means of transportation in the EU by 2030 and calls for European navigable waterways to attain “good navigation status” (GNS). While the concept of GNS evolves and guidelines for its achievement (Muilerman et al., 2018)[1] are applied, further efforts are needed to ensure that the WFD objectives of good ecological status or potential and the concept of GNS are coherent (CIS WFD, 2017).[2]

[1] Muilerman, G. J. Et al. (2018), Good Navigation Status, Guidelines towards achieving a Good Navigation Status. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, 2018.

[2] CIS WFD, 2017, Workshop report, Workshop on mitigation measures and GEP for Inland Navigation water use, 29th – 30th June 2017.

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Aquaculture affects water quality (through increased nutrient load and emission of cleaning agents and medicinal products) as well as the hydromorphology of aquatic ecosystems. Aquaculture can also affect wild stocks if cultured organisms escape into the natural water environment. At the same time, aquaculture can also act as a catalyst of ecosystem balance, e.g. by retaining water in the landscape and buffering extreme rainfall patterns with drought and flood protection through large ponds (Jeffrey et al., 2014). Here, sustainability plans bear great potential. European legislation in place tries to minimize the adverse environmental effects of aquaculture, for instance planning and development of new aquaculture operations has to be in line with the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) directives. According to these directives, environmental concerns have to be included early on in the planning process which helps to avoid or minimise negative impacts. In terms of regulation, measures for the aquaculture sector include consistent licensing to include mitigation measures in a coherent framework, as well as the development of a protocol of best practices to ensure interoperability and clarity for aquaculture owners. Regulatory codes for monitoring as well as sustainable management practices should follow, including the use of latest water purification and monitoring technologies. Finally, aquaculture should be integrated into further spatial planning tools, especially in the light of river basin management plans, and sufficient polluter-pays sanctions should be put in place. Aquaculture is a key component of both the Common Fisheries Policy and the Blue Growth Agenda to support sustainable growth in the sector, therefore further coherence of their targets with EU water policy objectives needs to be achieved.

Box 5  Code of good practice for aquaculture in Scotland

In Scotland, the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation has approved a code of good practice for finfish aquaculture to couple production with health and sustainability aspects. The Organisation committed to sustainable development practices in aquaculture, ranging from sustainable use of natural heritage to the sustainability of feed ingredients themselves. One of the main targets of the code is the minimisation of the environmental impact of aquaculture sites in the Scottish environment, including both freshwater and seawater lochs and tanks. The code is audited by independent actors, which ensures compliance with reliable sustainability standards (Scottish Salmon Producers' Organisation, 2020).

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Policies and strategies that define operations and give directions for further growth of sectoral activities play a key role for ongoing and future developments that impact European waters. Despite different priorities and investment cycles, over the past 15 years many sectors have shown attempts to acquire up-to-date knowledge and act on environmental aspects, including sustainable water resource management. This development has partly been set in motion by regulation and to a certain extent by private initiatives. Some private businesses, for instance the Scottish aquaculture industry or the European Mining Association, have incorporated sustainability in their codes of practice. Economic instruments, such as a pesticide tax in France and an electricity surcharge to fund sustainable hydropower in Switzerland, further represent a relevant trend. New technologies used in specific sectors have also helped, for instance drop irrigation to reduce pressure on scarce water resources for irrigation. More initiatives of this kind are needed across all key sectors impacting water resources. In particular, a consistent combination of multiple policy tools from the Water Framework Directive, the Common Agricultural Policy and the Energy & Climate Package is required.

Water sustainability elements brought into sectoral strategies need to be consistently enforced and implemented on the ground. However, in some cases, not enough information is available on the extent to which sustainability aspects are actually being implemented. Enhanced resources for enforcement, capacity-building and incentives to transition towards sustainable business models are needed, especially on the local level. Cooperation on the local, national and EU level is needed for the exchange of best practices and sustainable technologies, so that Member States can fully embrace the sustainable water management transition.

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