In Europe, we want our drinking water to be clean, we do not want our house to flood, we want our cities to be pleasant in the summer, we want our food to be produced, we want our economies, trade and industry to prosper. And while all of these things are directly or indirectly related to water, we do not take good care of our European water resources. The State of Nature in the EU report says that especially the European freshwater environment and its species are in a worrying state1. The trend is that the pressures on freshwater will increase resulting in negative effects on society and economy. Ultimately these effects will need to be managed leading to higher costs.


It is clear to experts that good water management is the best investment to counter this situation. But this is not so clear to most European citizens, civil servants, business people and politicians. Since 2000, the EU has one of the most advanced water management policies in the world, the Water Framework Directive2. This policy specifically addresses the quality of the water environment. And, the policy requires participation of the European public in water management as well as the development of economic recovery mechanisms to cover the costs of water management. While the policy has all the right words, it has not been able to drastically stop the degradation of the freshwater environment in the last 14 years. The main reason, Europeans do not engage with and in the policy. Water has remained an expert subject. As a result not many people understand water, where our freshwater comes from, how the hydrological cycle works, what the role is of ecoystems is in water provision and cleaning, what a river is or a groundwater aquifer, how much water, where and when and how important of water is to our economy.

What needs to happen is that Europeans need to engage more in water. The best way to do that is to let layman European citizens into the technical water management world. It is my experience that the water footprint can help with that3. The water footprint shows that all products that we use, consume water. The water footprint shows the water use of every little thing we do in our life or work. If you drink a coffee. The coffee from cultivation to your cup has consumed an average of 132 l of water4. The water footprint also tells you where and when the water was consumed. So the 132 l was not consumed in Europe, instead it was used last year in Guatamala or Kenya. Because the water footprint tells you where and when the water was used, it is possible to understand if the water use led to environmental and social problems in Kenya or Guatemala. If the water footprint is in a place that has a high water scarcity, the environmental and social problems of the water footprint may be high. If you know this as citizen, you can decide if you want to use products that come from less water scarce areas with less negative effects. And exactly then you have become a water manager.

Let us go back to water management in Europe. The water footprint can also help us understand the water situation in our backyards. These are the river basins and catchments we live in5. With the water footprint we can understand which economic activity consumes and pollutes what amount of water when and where. We can understand how these activities impact on the available water resulting in water scarcity and environmental degradation and even social impacts. We can understand what economic benefits come from the water use. And thus we can base economic decision making on that. For example, do we want to cultivate corn with low economic yield per liter of water, or strawberries with a much higher economic water productivity. The water footprint can transparently show what water is used by whom, where and when and what the economic, social and environmental effects of that use are.

The water footprint information can be be made available in an understandable language. A liter of water used is understood by everybody. Amount of euro´s made per liter of water is also very understandable. If more water is used then is available then there is will be a scarcity issue, also very easy. Fish need a certain level of water to swim in, that can be very well understood. The water footprint provids a basic water management language that can be understood by all European citizens.

Europen citizens that easily understand the water situation they are in, how their own actions and decisions influence the water situation, are more likely to do this. This information should become publicly available as part of the implementation of the EU water policy, the Water Framework Directive. Then, all citizens become water managers and move forward sustainable water management in Europe and start enjoying a great European freshwater environment.

1The State of Nature in the European Union Report on the status of and trends for habitat types and species covered by the Birds and Habitats Directives for the 2007-2012 period as required under Article 17 of the Habitats Directive and Article 12 of the Birds Directive, COM(2015) 219.
3The water footprint is an indicator of freshwater use that looks at both direct and indirect water use of a consumer or producer.


5Find more detailed information on how the water can be applied in watersheds at