Water represents a societal challenge. On a planet where 70% of the surface is covered by water, only 1% of this amount is actually usable freshwater. In the European Union, water scarcity and droughts already affect one third of the European territory and yet, of the total abstraction of freshwater, 44% is used to cool thermal power plants and 24% for irrigation. As water scarcity and droughts regularly affect large parts of the European territory, water availability and its efficient use are also issues that need to be addressed in Europe.

Access the JRC Water Portal

The JRC supports several pieces of legislation including the Water Framework Directive (WFD) and its associated daughter Directives. In the context of the WFD, the JRC is actively involved in the Blueprint to safeguard Europe’s water resources (the “Blueprint”) initiative. This initiative, which is part of the EU 2020 Strategy and the Resource Efficiency Roadmap, aims to ensure that good quality water is available in sufficient quantities for all legitimate uses.

The JRC provides scientific assessments to address societal and economic challenges deriving from the evolving vulnerability of the European and global water environment. In particular, it develops modelling tools to predict climate change impacts on water, assesses water governance in developing countries and carries out studies on the preservation of ecosystems.

Water and chemicals

Chemical compounds used in our daily activities can travel along rivers and lakes and end up in coastal and marine environments, where they can potentially threaten the health of humans and aquatic ecosystems. The JRC assesses and monitors the impact of pollutants and chemicals in aquatic ecosystems at regional and pan-European levels. To facilitate this, the JRC developed the Environmental Quality Standards (EQS) that set limits on allowable concentrations of aquatic pollutants.

The JRC carries out studies to assess the pressures of pollutants on aquatic ecosystems in Europe. In these studies, marine water bodies are the final recipients of pollutants. The JRC also performs modelling-based assessments which focus on inland freshwaters and on programmes of measures taken by decision makers in the drainage basin. The aims of these assessments are to identify the main sources of pollutants entering European marine waters, determine which activity sectors contribute to the transfer of pollutants from inland sources to coastal and marine waters, and evaluate the efficiency of various environmental directives on the transfer of pollutants.

The reliability and comparability of the analytical data produced by the monitoring exercise are crucial to the management of the environment. The JRC develops reference materials for substances on the priority list in fresh- and seawater and related matrices such as biota and sediment.

More information:

FATE – Fate and impacts of pollutants in ecosystems

EMIS – Environmental Marine Information System

Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.