Poland Poland Poland Poland

Fresh water resources Poland

Vulnerabilities - Poland


Public water demand in eastern Europe has declined since the early 1990s due to the introduction of metering and higher water prices. Recent economic growth in eastern Europe is, however, predicted to reverse the overall downward trend in the future (3,5).

It is estimated that water demand in Poland in 2050 will be 70% higher compared with 1990 due to non-climatic factors (12). For the Warta and Wieprz river basins these figures are 28% and around 100%, respectively (13). The Warta River in the west and Wieprz River in the east belong to the most vulnerable water basins. Both river basins are under stress of permanent water scarcity, Warta due to lowest annual precipitation in the country and  intensive withdrawal of water for industrial and agricultural activities and Wieprz for observed processes of steppization and intensive agricultural production. Climate change is expected to worsen the situation (1).


Groundwater recharge is likely to be reduced in central and eastern Europe (6). Studies show an increase in winter flows and decrease in summer flows in a.o. Slovakian rivers (7), the Volga and central and eastern Europe (8).

As glaciers shrink, summer flow is likely to be significantly reduced (9), by up to 50% (10). Summer low flow may decrease by up to 50% in central Europe (2,11).

Supply and demand

The overall balance between demand and supply under climate change suggests that water stress may occur in the Iberian peninsula (due to less supply), northwestern Europe (due to increasing demand) and eastern Europe (due to changes in demand and supply) (4).

Water deficit will be particularly significant in Central Poland and may rise by approximately 23% in 2020 and up to 30% in 2050 (1). Poland has an aggregated average fresh water availability of the order of 1400 m3 per capita. This is one of the lowest values in Europe. Indeed, over large areas of Poland, water deficit has been a common problem (15).

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 (16):

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.

Boreal 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.

Arctic lakes

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.

Mountain lakes

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.

Fresh water resources in numbers - Europe

The total renewable freshwater resource of a country is the total volume of river run-off and groundwater recharge generated annually by precipitation within the country, plus the total volume of actual flow of rivers coming from neighbouring countries. This resource is supplemented by water stored in lakes, reservoirs, icecaps and fossil groundwater. Dividing the total renewable freshwater resource by the number of inhabitants leads to water availability per capita. Thirteen countries have less than 5,000 m3/capita/year while Nordic countries generally have the highest water resources per capita. The Mediterranean islands of Malta and Cyprus and the densely populated European countries (Germany, Poland, Spain and England and Wales) have the lowest water availability per capita. The water availability is an annual data which therefore does not reflect at all seasonal variations (17).

Adaptation strategies

EU policy orientations for future action

According to the EU, policy orientations for the way forward are (18):

  • 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 (19), 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 (20,21). 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.

Measures - Poland

Measures for the adaptation to climate change that are planned up to 2030 include a.o. (14):

  • restoring peat-forming processes and increasing the biological diversity of re-natured ecosystems by changing the approach to drainage;
  • rebuilding the natural basin retention that will improve humid ground conditions and ecological condition of water ecosystems, as well as delay the flow of rainwater;
  • developing retention systems;
  • reducing the water deficit in agriculture by applying water-saving plants and technologies and limiting dehydration on the basis of justified resources allocation;
  • applying water-saving technologies;
  • reducing dehydration in agriculture;
  • restoring natural watering of forest habitats in order to enhance tree stands growth and condition of mid-forest water and marsh ecosystems;
  • reducing the drought risk;
  • reducing the flood risk and adverse flood effects, including diversified approaches in mountain, foothill, lowland and mouth regions, as well as in agglomerations and areas of intensive urbanization;
  • providing security to ageing hydrotechnical facilities by reconstructing and modernizing them;
  • using existing water routes suitably;
  • increasing retention capabilities of river catchments;
  • restoring and revitalizing degraded valleys and river beds.


The references below are cited in full in a separate map 'References'. Please click here if you are looking for the full references for Poland.

  1. Sadowski (2008)
  2. Eckhardt and Ulbrich (2003); Szolgay et al.(2003), both in: Alcamo et al. (2007)
  3. Alcamo et al. (2003), in: Alcamo et al. (2007)
  4. Alcamo et al. (2007)
  5. European Environment Agency (EEA) (2009)
  6. Eitzinger et al. (2003), in: Alcamo et al. (2007)
  7. Szolgay et al. (2004), in: Alcamo et al. (2007)
  8. Oltchev et al. (2002), in: Alcamo et al. (2007)
  9. Hock et al. (2005), in: Alcamo et al. (2007)
  10. Zierl and Bugmann (2005), in: Alcamo et al. (2007)
  11. Eckhardt and Ulbrich (2003), in: Alcamo et al. (2007)
  12. Kaczmarek et al. (1997); Liszewska and Osuch (1997), both in: Sadowski (2008)
  13. Kaczmarek and Napiorkowski (1996), in: Sadowski (2008)
  14. Ministry of the Environment and the National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Managementof the Republic of Poland (2010)
  15. Kundzewicz et al. (1999)
  16. Kuusisto (2004)
  17. European Commission (DG Environment) (2007)
  18. Commission of the European Communities (2007)
  19. Faunt (2009), in: Taylor et al. (2012)
  20. Scanlon et al. (2012), in: Taylor et al. (2012)
  21. Sukhija (2008), in: Taylor et al. (2012)