A set of proposed policies regarding agriculture aims to move the EU towards a water-efficient and water-saving economy.
Sustainable and efficient water management demands the engagement of all sectors and a focus on both the quantity and quality of water resources being used. A study conducted by the European Commission recognized that without changes in practices water use would increase by 16% by 2030. However, the study also found that the European Union can increase water use efficiency by 40% through technological improvements alone and even further with changes in human behavior and production patterns.
Agriculture is a significant water user in Europe, accounting for around 33% of total water use, and up to 80% in parts of southern Europe. Crop irrigation has been practiced for centuries and is the basis of economic and social activity, but has a high consumptive use resulting in approximately 70% of water abstracted not returning to a water body. Therefore several technological and management measures have been proposed to improve the efficiency and sustainability of agricultural water use, these include:
- Improving irrigation efficiency through conversion from open channel conveyance to pressurized pipe networks. In the Cote d’Azur region of France, such a conversion has helped save around 3000 million m3 annually.
- Field application efficiency that encourage drip systems rather than furrows. Spain has already reduced by one-third the areas that used to be irrigated by gravity (flooding) and now has 1.6 million hectares that use drip irrigation.
- Modifying agricultural practices to ensure careful crop selection and the timing of cropping. While this requires more awareness and education, in Crete where there is an Irrigation Advisory Service water savings of almost 20% have been achieved.
- Reusing wastewater. By avoiding discharge to the sea water, recycling has extended water use in Cyprus and is expected to equate for more than 25% of the water demand by 2015.
With population expected to grow through 2035 in Europe, resource efficiency measures are ensuring that sufficient clean water is available at an affordable price to provide vital goods and services.