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Price and awareness campaigns key to sustainable water use

Managing water supplies will require a better mix of pricing and non-pricing measures to ensure efficient household water use in the face of challenges like drought and growing demand in many EU countries, according to a new European Environment Agency (EEA) briefing.

The briefing, Water management in Europe: price and non-price approaches to water conservation, stresses that there is no quick fix to improving water efficiency amid increased challenges to water supplies. It summarises the main findings of a new assessment, coordinated by the EEA, which focuses on how household water demand is managed — including so-called price and non-price approaches.

The objective of the assessment is to provide an updated analysis and evaluation of the economic aspects of supply and demand effects on water management in Europe.

The assessment is based on case studies involving eight EU member states: Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Romania, Spain and Sweden. The counties were selected on the basis of geographical coverage, reflecting the diversity of water demand management issues and approaches, as well as water stress levels and the availability of good data.

The case studies found that EU water policies encourage member states to implement better management practices. Notably, water pricing policies (levies or tariffs on water use, for example) in combination with other measures such as encouraging the use of water saving devices on shower heads or taps, or education and awareness campaigns. A mix of the two has been used across Europe with varied results.

The assessment concludes that national and local water management strategies should focus on designing the most effective combination to get the best results in reducing household water consumption and improving efficient use. The demand for water continues to increase, especially for domestic consumption. Increased intensity and frequency of droughts and water scarcity were identified as the key challenges for five of the eight countries (Cyprus, France, Italy, Romania, and Spain).

Over exploitation of groundwater resources was also cited, as demand for water rises not only for residential and tourist sectors but also others like industry and agriculture.

Water stress affects more than 100 million people, one third of the EU territory all year around. During summer months, water scarcity is more pronounced in southern EU member states but it is also becoming increasingly important in northern parts of the EU as well, including the UK and Germany.

In some regions, for example, water scarcity is becoming more frequent as an effect of climate change. Changing climate conditions are also affecting the frequency of and intensity of droughts and their environmental and economic damages appear to have increased over the past 30 years.

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