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The European blueprint to safeguard water resources

Given the vast amount of work still required to safeguard European waters, the European commission has launched an action plan. The initial results reveal the great diversity of situations and confirm the need to pursue the efforts undertaken.

The European authorities recently indicated that 53% of water bodies should reach good status by 2015, the first way point in the WFD programme. That means the first management plan achieved a ten-point improvement, however the chemical status of 40% of groundwater bodies is still unknown. The main threats weighing on good water status are overconsumption of resources, point and nonpoint-source pollution, and hydromorphological modifications in rivers. In 2012, the European commission set up an action plan to safeguard water resources, also known as the blueprint. The plan drew attention to the foreseeable increase in droughts and water shortages caused by rising demand in a context of climate change.

In addition to new regulations on water reuse, the blueprint pushes for better enforcement of the existing legislation, a project in which the commission can play an active part. The blueprint drew up a panorama of the various Member States, in which France did not particularly stand out with its 41% of water bodies with good status, close to the European average of 43%. The objective for 2015 is a progression of 24 percentage points, compared to goals of 6 points in the U.K., 11 in Germany, 39 in Spain and 54 in Italy.

A number of countries currently face legal proceedings, due notably to poor implementation of the WFD, numerous delays (transposition into national law, reports to the commission, implementation of Article 5 reports and management plans) and an excessively narrow interpretation of water services, however, France is not among them.

The strong points noted in WFD implementation in France concern the efforts to encourage participation by the public, good characterisation of pressures and design of the corresponding measures, and the drafting of numerous guides to assist implementation (e.g. on groundwater, exemptions, etc.). The commission has acknowledged the efforts in France to integrate the WFD in water management, however, it also notes a number of weaknesses, similar to most of the other countries. The weaknesses concern the water-status assessment methods, the fact that the programmes of measures do not clearly indicate the links between pressures and the selected measures, and the limited integration of climate change in management plans.

Going beyond the panorama, the blueprint set a number of guidelines for the future management plans, encouraging countries to pursue research on assessment methods and to take climate change better into account. It also recommended providing more information on planned measures, particularly those for the agricultural sector, and their funding conditions. A further aspect concerns integrating the agricultural measures in the common agricultural policy.

Finally, better coordination of WFD management plans with the Flood Risks and the Marine Strategy Framework directives should be in place by 2015. All the above elements will contribute to the revision of the RBMPs (river-basin management plans), which should also be finished by the end of 2015.

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