Fresh water resources Belgium
Summer demand will increase, in particular if irrigation becomes a widespread agricultural practice. Dry summers, with increased evaporation and possibly reduced precipitation, will probably reduce the groundwater level significantly (2). Drier summers and an increase of evapotranspiration may reduce the water volumes in the reservoirs by 8-15%, even at wetter winters, and may thus have an impact on river flows, drinking water supply and irrigation (4).
The influence of changing rainfall and potential evapo(transpi)ration patterns on river discharges due to climate change has been examined for the basins of the rivers Dender and Scheldt (15). From this research it was concluded that low flow problems become more severe in Belgium in the future and are probably more important than the increase in flood risk; the summer base flow may decrease with more than 50% during dry summers (15). Model calculations for 67 catchments in the Scheldt river basin in Flanders indicate 20% – 70% reduction in low flow extremes for the 2080s (19).
In contrast, increased winter precipitation will contribute to larger groundwater recharge. Changes to aquifer level have consequences on the timescale of a year or more, and should thus partly cancel each other (1).
The reduction of surface water volumes in the summer may negatively affect water quality (3).
Europe: five lake categories
There are almost one and a half million lakes in Europe, if small water bodies with an area down to 0.001 km2 are included. The total area of lakes is over 200,000 km2; in addition the manmade reservoirs cover almost 100,000 km2. The response of European lakes to climate change can be discussed by dividing the lakes into five categories (12):
Deep, temperate lakes
Typical representatives of this class are e.g. Lakes Maggiore, Ohrid, Geneva and Constance with mean depths of 177, 164, 153 and 90 meters, respectively. Due to the great depth and relatively mild winters, there is usually no ice cover. The future climate change in Europe may suppress the turnover in deep lakes. This implies the enhancement of anoxic bottom conditions and an increased risk of eutrophication. The oxygen conditions can also be anticipated to deteriorate due to increased bacterial activity in deep waters and surficial bottom sediment.
Shallow, temperate lakes
Balaton (600 km2, 3 m) in Hungary and Müritz (114 km2, 8 m) in Germany belong to this class. Increasing water temperatures may result in intensified primary production and bacterial composition. The probability of harmful extreme events, e.g. mass production of blue-green algae, will increase. The impacts may extend to fish life; changes in species composition and reduced fish catches will be anticipated. The use of the expression 'thermal pollution' is well justified for these lakes.
Ladoga (17 670 km2, 51 m), Onega (9670 km2, 30 m) and Vänern (5670 km2, 27 m) are the largest in this class, being also the three largest lakes in Europe. This group includes about 120 lakes with an area exceeding 100 km2. Most lakes of the boreal zone mix from top to bottom during two mixing periods each year. Shortening of the ice cover period will be the most obvious consequence of climate change in these lakes. This could improve the oxygen conditions in winter and spring.
These are mainly small water bodies in northern Scandinavian mountains and in the tundra region. Arctic lakes are generally considered to be particularly sensitive to environmental changes. Melting permafrost may seriously threaten the ecosystems of arctic lakes. In some cases the whole lake may disappear as a consequence of ground thaw and enhanced evaporation.
To this class belong all high altitude lakes in central Europe and also those located in southern Scandinavia. Even if mountain lakes were connected by channels, physical and ecological constraints limit species migration between them. In a warming climate, there is no escape route; the only possibility for survival is adaptation.
Present situation in Europe
In the EU as a whole, energy production accounts for 44% of total water abstraction, primarily serving as cooling water. 24% of abstracted water is used in agriculture, 21% for public water supply and 11% for industrial purposes (7).
These EU-wide figures for sectoral water use mask strong regional differences, however. In southern Europe, for example, agriculture accounts for more than half of total national abstraction, rising to more than 80 % in some regions, while in western Europe more than half of water abstracted goes to energy production as cooling water. In northern EU Member States, agriculture's contribution to total water use varies from almost zero in a few countries, to over 30% in others (11). Almost 100% of cooling water used in energy production is restored to a water body. In contrast, the consumption of water through crop growth and evaporation typically means that only about 30% of water abstracted for agriculture is returned (7).
Currently, just two countries, Germany and France, account for more than 40% of European water abstraction by manufacturing industry (7).
In general, water is relatively abundant with a total freshwater resource across Europe of around 2270 km3/year. Moreover, only 13% of this resource is abstracted, suggesting that there is sufficient water available to meet demand. In many locations, however, overexploitation by a range of economic sectors poses a threat to Europe's water resources and demand often exceeds availability. As a consequence, problems of water scarcity are widely reported, with reduced river flows, lowered lake and groundwater levels and the drying up of wetlands becoming increasingly commonplace. This general reduction of the water resource also has a detrimental impact upon aquatic habitats and freshwater ecosystems. Furthermore, saline intrusion of over-pumped coastal aquifers is occurring increasingly throughout Europe, diminishing their quality and preventing subsequent use of the groundwater (7).
Virtually all abstraction for energy production and more than 75% of that abstracted for industry and agriculture comes from surface sources. For agriculture, however, groundwater's role as a source is probably underestimated due to illegal abstraction from wells. Groundwater is the predominant source (about 55%) for public water supply due to its generally higher quality than surface water. In addition, in some locations it provides a more reliable supply than surface water in the summer months (7).
Fresh water reservoirs
Currently about 7000 large dams are to be found across Europe, with a total capacity representing about 20% of the total freshwater resource (7). The number of large reservoirs is highest in Spain (ca 1200), Turkey (ca 610), Norway (ca 360) Italy (ca 570), France (ca 550), the United Kingdom (ca 500) and Sweden (ca 190). Europe's reservoirs have a total capacity of about 1400 km3or 20% of the overall available freshwater resource (10).
Three countries with relatively limited water resources, Romania, Spain and Turkey, are able to store more than 40% of their renewable resource. Another five countries, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Sweden and Ukraine, have smaller but significant storage capacities (20–40%). The number and volume of reservoirs across Europe grew rapidly over the twentieth century. This rate has slowed considerably in recent years, primarily because most of the suitable river sites for damming have been used but also due to growing concerns over the environmental impacts of reservoirs (7).
Projected future situation in Europe
Appliance ownership data is not currently readily available for the new Member States but it is believed that rates are currently relatively low and likely to rise in the future. Higher income can also result in increased use and possession of luxury household water appliances such as power showers, jacuzzis and swimming pools. Changes in lifestyle, such as longer and more frequent baths and showers, more frequent use of washing machines and the desire for a green lawn during summer, can have a marked effect on household water use. The growth in supply within southern Europe has been driven, in part, by increasing demand from tourism. In Turkey, abstraction for public water supply has increased rapidly since the early 1990s, reflecting population growth and a rise in tourism (7).
Water stress over central and southern Europe is projected to increase. In the EU, the percentage of land area under high water stress is likely to increase from 19% today to 35% by the 2070s, by when the number of additional people affected is expected to be between 16 and 44 million. Furthermore, in southern Europe and some parts of central and eastern Europe, summer water flows may be reduced by up to 80% (8).
Runoff is estimated to increase north of 47°N by approximately 5-15% by the 2020s and 9-22% by the 2070s. North of 60°N, these ranges would be considerably higher, particularly in Finland and northern Russia (5). Average annual runoff in Europe varies widely, from less than 25 mm in southeast Spain to more than 3000 mm on the west coast of Norway. Climate change is thus going to make the distribution of water resources in Europe much more uneven than it is today. And even today's distribution is highly uneven, particularly considering the distribution of population density. Almost 20% of water resources are north of 60°N, while only 2% of people live there (6).
Not only will climate change affect the spatial distribution of water resources, but also their distribution in time. In northern Europe, the flows in winter (December to February) will increase two- to three-fold, while in spring they will attenuate considerably, in summer increase slightly and in autumn almost double by the period 2071-2100 (6).
EU policy orientations for future action
According to the EU, policy orientations for the way forward are (14):
- Putting the right price tag on water;
- Allocating water and water-related funding more efficiently: Improving land-use planning, and Financing water efficiency;
- Improving drought risk management: Developing drought risk management plans, Developing an observatory and an early warning system on droughts, and Further optimising the use of the EU Solidarity Fund and European Mechanism for Civil Protection;
- Considering additional water supply infrastructures;
- Fostering water efficient technologies and practices;
- Fostering the emergence of a water-saving culture in Europe;
- Improve knowledge and data collection: A water scarcity and drought information system throughout Europe, and Research and technological development opportunities.
Managed aquifer recharge
Comprehensive management approaches to water resources that integrate ground water and surface water may greatly reduce human vulnerability to climate extremes and change, and promote global water and food security. Conjunctive uses of ground water and surface water that use surface water for irrigation and water supply during wet periods, and ground water during drought (16), are likely to prove essential. Managed aquifer recharge wherein excess surface water, desalinated water and treated waste water are stored in depleted aquifers could also supplement groundwater storage for use during droughts (17,18). Indeed, the use of aquifers as natural storage reservoirs avoids many of the problems of evaporative losses and ecosystem impacts associated with large, constructed surface-water reservoirs.
A number of measures exist that may potentially reduce the use of publicly supplied water. These can be broadly grouped into the categories of water saving devices; greywater re-use; rainwater harvesting and the efficient use of water in gardens and parks; leakage reduction; behavioural change through raising awareness; water pricing; and metering. Since treating, pumping and heating water consumes significant amounts of energy, using less publicly supplied water also reduces energy consumption (7).
In Denmark and Estonia, for example, a steady rise in the price of water since the early 1990s has resulted in a significant decline in household water use. Metering leads to reduced water use; in England and Wales, for example, people living in metered properties use, on average, 13% less water than those in unmetered homes (9).
Desalination increases the total available freshwater resource and, in this respect, may be preferable to further depletion of the surface and groundwater stocks. Detrimental environmental impacts are associated with desalination plants, however, in particular their energy consumption and the production of highly concentrated brine that may be released into sensitive marine waters. Furthermore, expanding supply from desalination plants does not provide any incentive to either reduce water use or improve the efficiency of use. Decisions on the suitability of future desalination plants need to be addressed on a case-by-case basis, accounting for all environmental and economic issues (7).
In order to safeguard fresh water supply in the summer, larger reservoirs need to be made or fresh water needs to be imported from other areas (3,4). The Brussels region imports 96% of its drinking water from the Walloon Region (1).
A programme for rational water use in urban areas is being developed within the framework of sustainable urban design and eco-construction projects (1).
Incentives to ensure an efficient use of water resources include taxes on groundwater and legislation on drinking
water. Groundwater taxation depends on the total amount pumped, the aquifer and the status of the groundwater in the region. Surface water taxation depends on the total amount abstracted and the sector of water use. Abstraction for agriculture uses is charged with fixed prices (13).
The references below are cited in full in a separate map 'References'. Please click here if you are looking for the full references for Belgium.
- Ministry for Social Affairs, Health and Environment (2009)
- IRGT-KINT and CEESE/ECOLAS (2004), in: Ministry for Social Affairs, Health and Environment (2009)
- Van Ypersele and Marbaix (2004)
- d’Ieteren et al. (2003)
- Alcamo et al. (2007)
- Eisenreich (2005)
- EEA (2009)
- EEA, JRC and WHO (2008)
- Environment Agency (2008a), in: EEA (2009)
- EEA (2007), in: EEA (2009)
- IEEP (2000), in: EEA (2009)
- Kuusisto (2004)
- European Commission (DG Environment) (2007)
- Commission of the European Communities (2007)
- Boukhris (2008)
- Faunt (2009), in: Taylor et al. (2012)
- Scanlon et al. (2012), in: Taylor et al. (2012)
- Sukhija (2008), in: Taylor et al. (2012)
- Boukhris et al. (2008), in: Willems and Lloyd-Hughes (2016)