Intensive agriculture is destroying EU drinking water

BirdLife Europe launches #ProtectWater campaign to defend the Water Framework Directive and reform the CAP

The current Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) encourages destructive industrial scale farming which deteriorates our freshwater ecosystems in Europe. As it stands, 60% of European rivers, lakes, and wetlands are threatened. Scandalously, rather than improving the CAP, the intensive farm lobby is pushing to weaken the main law protecting Europe’s water resources. Today, BirdLife Europe launches the latest chapter of the #ProtectWater campaign. The campaign, which already has the support of 130 000 Europeans, aims to keep the current WFD intact. [1]

To protect European waters, the next CAP must follow current WFD standards [2]. Sustainable farming must receive significant financial support of the EU. The current CAP reform discussions however want to maintain direct payments, and effectively support intensive agriculture that is destroying European drinking water. 60 billion euros of EU taxpayers’ money go to industrial and intensive farming that drains our rivers and pollutes our lakes.

Unsustainable industrial scale agriculture impacts our freshwaters in two major ways:

  • Pollution: Intensive agriculture has contaminated the groundwater so badly with nitrates and pesticides that numerous cities and villages cannot provide safe drinking water.  Farming is responsible for over 50% of nitrogen in water and is a significant source of phosphates. [2]
  • Over-abstraction: In many parts of Europe, the intensive CAP-subsidized agricultural sector uses excessive quantities of water. Agriculture accounts for 36% of total consumptive water annual use. In summer, this increases to about 60%. Water scarcity affects at least 14 EU Member States and concerns around 100 million inhabitants in the EU. [3]

Ariel Brunner, Senior Head of Policy, BirdLife Europe:
“The current state of our freshwater ecosystems is unacceptable. The European Commission should leave the effective Water Framework Directive alone, enforce its implementation, and spend its energy on reforming the water-destroying Common Agriculture Policy, the most important culprit in the water pollution and scarcity we currently face.” 

ENDS.

For more information, please contact:
Ariel Brunner, Senior Head of Policy, BirdLife Europe
+32 (0)4 8663 0042
ariel.brunner@birdlife.org

 

Notes:

[1] #ProtectWater – This campaign is launched by the Living Rivers Europe coalition. BirdLife Europe supports this campaign through its focus on the impact that intensive, unsustainable agriculture has on European freshwater. 

[2] Water Framework Directive:

In 2000, the EU adopted extensive legislation to better protect and preserve its water resources: the Water Framework Directive (WFD). Its ambitious targets were set by and agreed by all EU Member States.
The Water Framework Directive (WFD) is one of the most holistic and progressive EU environmental policies to date. By tackling all pressures on freshwater ecosystems in one integrated plan - from agricultural pollution to hydropower pressure or navigation - the WFD aims to reverse the trend of deterioration of our rivers, lakes and wetlands and the decline of biodiversity

[2] Pollution of water due to intensive agriculture

  • Intensive agriculture has contaminated the groundwater so badly with nitrates and pesticides that numerous cities and villages cannot provide safe drinking water respecting legal thresholds.
  • Manure runoff from intensive livestock farming pollutes groundwater with excessive emissions of nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus)
  • Pollution from agriculture (pesticides, fertilizers and other agrochemicals) remains one of the biggest threats to the health of Europe’s rivers, lakes and aquifers.
  • In Europe, pollution due to excessive emissions of nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) and chemicals such as pesticides affects 37% of surface water bodies and 34% of the area of groundwater bodies (68% of these are affected by diffuse pollution from agriculture).
  • The cost for the EU from the excess of nitrogen in water has been calculated at €320 billion a year, of which farming is responsible for half.
  • Farming is responsible for over 50% of nitrogen in water and is a significant source of phosphates.
  • Nitrogen loads for the agricultural sector are predicted to remain high over the coming years as increases of 4% in nitrogen fertiliser use are predicted for the EU to 2020

[3] Over-extraction of water due to intensive agriculture

  • In many parts of Europe, the intensive CAP-subsidized agricultural sector uses excessive quantities of water. Agriculture accounts for 36% of total consumptive water annual use. In summer, this increases to about 60%.
  • Water scarcity affects at least 14 EU Member States and concerns around 100 million inhabitants in the EU.
  • The share of agriculture in EU water abstraction (24%) has wide variations: in Southern countries the share is 65% (up to 80%), mostly used for crop irrigation. In the spring of 2014, this sector used 66 % of the total water used in Europe.

BirdLife Europe and Central Asia is a partnership of 48 national conservation organisations and a leader in bird conservation. Our unique local to global approach enables us to deliver high impact and long term conservation for the benefit of nature and people. BirdLife Europe and Central Asia is one of the six regional secretariats that compose BirdLife International. Based in Brussels, it supports the European and Central Asian Partnership and is present in 47 countries including all EU Member States. With more than 4100 staff in Europe, two million members and tens of thousands of skilled volunteers, BirdLife Europe and Central Asia, together with its national partners, owns or manages more than 6000 nature sites totalling 320,000 hectares.