Overall in Europe water use is characterized by 65% ground water, 35% surface water, and a very small amount from the desalination of salt water.

The total surface water and ground water use by different sectors in Europe is 64% agriculture, 20% energy, 12% public supply and 4% industry.

In Europe alone 14 million do not have access to basic drinking water source. 17% of Europe’s territory and at least 11% of the population has been affected by water scarcity.


  1. There is a large nitrogen surplus in the agricultural soils of EU countries that can potentially pollute both surface and groundwaters.
  2. The percentage of the population connected to waste water treatment is relatively low in Belgium, Ireland, southern Europe and accession countries.
  3. Nitrate in drinking water is a common problem across Europe particularly from shallow wells.
  4. 10% of Europe’s coastal and 28% of inland bathing waters do not meet (nonmandatory) guide values.
  5. There is very limited information on the loads of hazardous substances entering the Mediterranean and Black Seas, and none on how these have changed over recent years.
  6. For the many other substances that are present in Europe’s water no assessment of change can be made due to a lack of data.
  7. Pesticide and metal contamination of drinking water supplies has been identified as a problem in many European countries.
  8. Contaminant concentrations above limits for human consumption are still found in mussels and fish, mainly from estuaries of major rivers, near industrial point discharges and harbours.
  9. 18% of Europe’s population live in countries that are water stressed.
  10. Large areas of the Mediterranean coastline in Italy, Spain and Turkey are reported to be affected by saltwater intrusion. The main cause is ground-water over-abstraction for public water supply and in some areas abstractions for tourism and irrigation.
  11. Agriculture pays much lower prices for water than the other main sectors, particularly in southern Europe.
  12. In some countries, losses of water by leakage from water distribution systems can still be significant, exceeding 40% of supply.

Multiple Water Stressors

  1. Agricultural practices are leading to a number of significant problems in water and ground water. Non point source pollution from nutrient and pesticide runoff, especially nitrates is a problem throughout the EU.
  2. Point source pollution from industrial and municipal waster water is still a significant problem in some countries.
  3. Structural and physical modifications include river regulation, channelization, damming, regulation of water flow and level, embankments.
  4. Water overexploitation has negatively impacted the environment. Lowering of ground water levels, salt water intrusion into aquifers, and the drying up of water courses have been seen in some areas. Overexploitation is associated with irrigation (e.g. in Greece irrigation accounts for 80% of total water demand, 68% of water used in Spain, 52% in Portugal and more than 50% in Italy) and also with tourism in some places.



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