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News Brussels eyes water savings in agriculture

Addressing water efficiency in farming, which accounts for two thirds of EU water use, should be one of the priorities in reforming the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the head of the European Commission's water unit suggests.

"We cannot talk about water efficiency without talking about agriculture," said Peter Gammeltoft, addressing the Parliament's water intergroup on 7 April.

The last reform, dubbed as the 'CAP Health Check', already introduced some positive measures on water but more needs to be done "to make agriculture contribute to water efficiency," he added.

Referring to Australia, Gammeltoft said water savings regulation in agriculture had actually even improved the profitability of farming.

In Europe, the 'CAP Health Check' introduced a requirement to introduce pesticide buffer strips along water courses and shifted some funding to address water scarcity.

But "legal abstraction still remains a big problem in some parts of the EU," Gammeltoft said, suggesting EU rules for irrigation purposes are not fully respected.

The water use of biofuels and biomass production should also be addressed, he said. With global population growth, water is needed for increased food production, he said, suggesting that "the overall water balance" needs to adapt.

In addition, Gammeltoft noted that more data is needed to measure the impact of land-use change on water availability. These include urban development and changes in crop cultivation, which may place further strain on water resources.

In order to 'retain' water and increase its availability in cities and on the countryside, Gammeltoft suggested that urban runoff from sewage systems and drainage of land in rural areas for agricultural use should be reduced.


Free access to public goods, like water, has the tendency to lead to wastage, Gammeltoft continued, suggesting pricing as a tool to "put a break to appetite for water". This is why the EU's Water Framework Directive (WFD) requires member states to introduce water-pricing policies to incentivise efficient water use in all sectors, he said.

Meanwhile, Marta Moren Abat, water director for the Spanish government, stressed that water pricing and defining the level at which the cost should be recovered is "not easy". 

Questioned about her countries' subsidies for water use in agriculture and the significant difference in price of water for agriculture and households, Moren Abat highlighted that in some areas of Spain the whole economy depends on agriculture , so if agriculture pays less for water than households it is "for specific reasons".

Commission blueprint to address water stress

European water resources are already under significant stress and climate change is just making things worse, Gammeltoft noted. And while the "pressure point" is currently in the south, with Cyprus experiencing the severest water shortage, "water stress will expand to South-East and Central Europe," with or without climate change, he warned.

As a follow up to its 2007 Communication on water scarcity and drought, the Commission will in 2012 table a 'Blueprint for Safeguarding Europe's Water' (EurActiv 19/07/07). It will examine member states' implementation of EU water legislation and assess the potential for both water savings and increased water availability as well as climate resilience. 

Contact information Email:
News type Inbrief
File link
File link local WS-D_LexUriServ2007.pdf (PDF, 105 Kb)
Source of information Euractiv
Keyword(s) EU-WFD, water efficiency in farming, Common Agricultural Policy, water pricing, water stress, blueprint, water legislation, water savings
Geographical coverage EU
News date 30/04/2010
Working language(s) ENGLISH