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Sustainable Water Use in Europe: Demand Management (2001)

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C. Lallana, W. Krinner and T. Estrela, CEDEX S. Nixon, Water Research Centre J. Leonard, J. M. Berland, IOW


This is the second report from the European Environment Agency on sustainable water use in Europe and focuses on how the demand side of water management is being approached across Europe. It has been produced by the European Topic Centre on Inland Waters on behalf of the European Environment Agency. The project was led by the Centre de Estudios y Experimentación de Obras Públicas (CEDEX, Spain), with the assistance of the Water Research Centre (United Kingdom), the International Office for Water (IOW) and the Agences de l’Eau (France) and the Institute of Hydrology (United Kingdom).

Information has been obtained from available sources such as reports from international organisations (e.g. Eurostat, FAO), and national sources such as state of the environment reports. Extensive use was made of the EIONET network of contacts developed by the European Environment Agency. The focus is primarily on the countries of western Europe, but the Phare Topic Link on Inland Waters (led by Vituki Consult Rt. in Hungary) also contributed data and information on central and east European countries.

This report is also a source document for

Europe’s Environment: The Second Assessment

published by the European Environment

Agency in June 1998 and Environment in the European Union at the turn of the centurypublished in June 1999.

The report aims to inform and provide information for policy- and decision-makers at the national and European levels. It will also be of interest to NGOs, educational establishments and interested members of the public.

The report is concerned mainly with measures which aim to achieve increases in the efficiency of use of water over the medium to long term. A distinction is made between urban, industrial and agricultural uses since these vary considerably and water demand management programmes need to be designed specifically for each sector. In addition to sectoral differences, there are considerable differences between and within countries depending on socioeconomic, geographical and climatological factors.

The management of water demand is an important issue in Europe and a number of policies and mechanisms are being used or are being formulated to ensure sustainable use of water. It is intended that this report will act as a source of comparative data to support the assessment of policies in place and a source of information for those developing new policies.

Executive summary

The European Environment Agency (EEA) and its European Topic Centre on Inland Waters (ETC/IW) are undertaking an assessment of the sustainable use of water in Europe. This report describes the second part of that assessment and looks at, in particular, the demand-side management of water across Europe. There are many pressures on water resources including those arising from agriculture, industry, urban areas, households and tourism. These driving forces on the need for water are intimately linked with national and international social and economic policies. Additional driving forces arise from natural variability in water availability (rainfall) and changes in Europe’s climate. Recent history has demonstrated that extreme hydrological events such as floods and drought can create additional stress on water supplies essential for human and ecosystem health. The prudent and efficient use of water is thus an important issue in Europe and a number of policies and mechanisms are being used or are being formulated to ensure sustainable use of water in the long term. Information for this report has largely been collected from western Europe, though some information has also been obtained from some east European countries.

In the past, efforts to satisfy increasing demand have often been expended principally on increasing the supply of resources, which were available abundantly and at relatively low cost. However, the relationship between water abstraction and water availability has turned into a major stress factor in the exploitation of water resources in Europe. Therefore, it is logical that the investigation of sustainable water use is concentrating increasingly on the possibilities of influencing water demand in a way which is favourable for the water environment. The present report continues the work undertaken by the EEA under its study ‘Sustainable water use in Europe – Part 1: Sectoral use of water’ (EEA, 1999). Part 3 of the work on sustainable water use investigates the importance and significance of extreme hydrological events such as droughts and floods.

This report seeks to identify the key aspects and factors of water demand management as they relate to the different economic sectors. The information is largely gained from case studies which are summarised in the Appendix to the main report.

Most of the water used in households is for toilet flushing (33 %) and bathing and showering (20–32 %). The lowest percentage of domestic use is for drinking and cooking (3 %). The use of water-saving devices, such as reduced volume toilet flushes, in households can achieve savings of around 50 %. The overall savings of water would depend on the proportion of household water demand in total urban demand and on how widespread was the use of such devices. However, at present, their use is not very widespread perhaps because of the lack of information on them and/or because of their relatively high price.

The impact of introducing metering on water use is difficult to separate from other factors, in particular the water charges applied. However, the immediate savings from the introduction of revenue-neutral metering are estimated to be about 10–25 % of consumption. The introduction of metering is usually accompanied by a revised charging system and regulations on leakage. Generally, water meters have been used to determine water used, but, in some areas (Denmark), meter readings will be used to calculate a pollution tax, on the basis that the amount of water used indicates the discharge to the sewage treatment plant.

Losses in water distribution networks can reach high percentages of the volume introduced. Thus leakage reduction through preventive maintenance and network renewal is one of the main elements of any efficient water management policy. Leakage figures from different countries indicate the different states of the networks and also the different components of leakage included in the calculations (e.g. Albania up to 75 %, Croatia 30–60 %, Czech Republic 20–30 %, France 30 %, and Spain 24–34 %).

Tracing and repairing leakage can be very expensive. Increasing water production to feed leaks may prove cheaper in some systems. The consequence is that some local authorities may decide not to trace leakage, despite low efficiency ratios, but continue their wasteful use of water.

The substitution of water (reduction in volume) in industrial processes can give rise to immediate savings particularly if the control of the process conditions is improved at the same time as a reduction of water consumption by about 50 % is achieved. Processes in ‘closed circuits’ can also reduce water use by about 90 %.

The main water use within the agricultural sector is for irrigation, with minor use by livestock-farming and fish-farming. In the Mediterranean countries, there are national policies to encourage the modernisation or substitution of traditional irrigation methods. These include plans to increase the size of properties to allow the introduction of modern irrigation techniques. The cost of modernisation of existing irrigation methods (gravity) into pressurised systems depends on several factors, but is often in excess of the resultant economic benefits. Thus, governments often offer financial incentives or direct subsidies to farmers for changing irrigation equipment.

The tariff structure has a high impact on the final water price and creates sectoral (industry, agriculture, urban) and geographical (local, regional, national level) differences. Over recent years, the development of water policies in Europe has had an important impact on water bill composition. Information to users is essential in any process of water tariff changes (structure and price increases).

Price structures within the urban sector are generally fixed at municipal level and can vary widely within a country. The differences, in general, take into account different types of users (domestic, industry, agriculture) and tend to reflect differences in cost structures. Experience has, however, shown that an increase in water prices reduces water use.

Block tariffs, which include a connection charge independent of the water use, are widespread: this is the case in Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, the Netherlands,

Norway, Spain and the UK. For a family living in a house using 200 m3 of water per year, Germany has the highest water charges in Europe (EUR 350.16), followed by the Netherlands (EUR 344.35) and Denmark (EUR 303.57). Italy (EUR 49.62) and Norway (EUR 84.83) have the lowest.

The industrial sector faces two different ranges of prices depending on the water source: direct abstraction or from public water supply. Abstraction charges can take the form of a nominal licence fee linked to an abstraction permit regime or they can vary depending on the quantity used. Abstraction charges for industrial water uses are not in place in countries where water is deemed to be abundant (e.g. Sweden). It is usually cheaper for industrial users to invest in water abstraction and treatment facilities than to pay for supplied water, although information is often difficult to obtain.

In most countries, little information is available on tariff structures for industrial users because companies tend to enter into special contracts with water suppliers (e.g. the Czech Republic, Finland, France and Germany). In other countries, such as the UK, standard charges are available to all customers in similar circumstances. In some countries, subsidies can be available for industrial users when they are willing to improve their water abstraction or treatment capacities (e.g. Austria).

The main motive to implement water conservation programmes in companies tends to be economic incentives, normally in the form of abstraction charges and wastewater fees. Other factors can be legislative requirements for cleaner technologies, environmental image and concern for the reliability of water supply.

The situation regarding water tariffs for irrigation is very different from other sectors. The main reason for this is the different role irrigation plays in relation to the different hydrological and climatic conditions across Europe. Irrigation tariffs can be extremely low and there is significant pressure to resist any increase. The use of water for irrigation responds moderately to water price levels, but is more influenced by other factors such as climate variations, agricultural policies and product prices. The most common system for irrigation charges is based on the irrigated surface, followed by a combination of per unit area and volume used.

The general education of and provision of information for water users are important parts of initiatives encouraging more rational water use and changing habits. It is, however, difficult to quantify the effect of a public educational campaign because it is always part of a wider water-saving programme which includes other measures.

In agriculture, the aim of the education programmes is to help farmers optimise irrigation. This can be achieved through training (on irrigation techniques), and through regular information on climatic conditions, irrigation volume advice for different crops, and advice on when to

start/stop the irrigation period adjusting irrigation volumes according to rainfall and type of soil.

In Mediterranean countries, the importance of the direct reuse of wastewater is increasing and there is a trend towards considering treated wastewater as an economic good. The technical aspects of reuse are generally in place, but there is a lack of standards and national regulations for the reuse of water. Standards and guidelines are urgently needed. There is also a need for economic incentives to establish new programmes for uses of water which do not require high quality.