Project description

Water is a key component for coping with impacts of climate change. The alteration of rainfall patter (form, intensity and timing of rainfall) will have significant effects on water availability and frequency of extreme events such as floods and droughts. The knock-on effects of these changes will affect almost all communities throughout Europe, and most economic sectors. The reduced water availability and increasing demand for water in agriculture, energy production and by households will - in many places already is - create stress the communities have to learn to live with. Since the water scarcity is often co-produced by unsustainable practices and inefficient allocation of water, water demand management (WDM) is becoming a centrepiece of water policies and climate adaptation initiatives (EC 2007b).

Less appreciated and understood is the key importance of water for energy production and thus for climate change mitigation. Water is a source of hydropower and a cooling substance in the thermoelectric power generation. Water is also used to extract, refine and process energy-resource (oil and gas). Renewable energy sources such as biofuel and solar thermal energy also require large volumes of water. One the other side, energy is a key input in the water value chain (WEF 2008), indispensable to power water movement and treatment, and many water demand management measures require energy input.

This project will examine recent cases of droughts and human-made water scarcity in Italy, Spain, Portugal and Germany. It will i) identify 'social drivers' of water scarcity - i.e., the practices which lead to unsustainable consumption and inefficient allocation of water; ii) assess the magnitude and mediating factors of water scarcity- and drought-induced impacts; and iii) revisit the performance and wider impacts of the water demand management policies. Resilience and adaptive capacity, that is the ability to withstand and recover from significant disruptions (or to absorb and cushion against damage), will be translated into practical management tool applicable at river basin scale.

The project will provide critical input to contemporary water management policies and practices. The draft River Basin District Management Plans compelled by the Water Framework Directive (WDF) do not satisfactory address the issue of climate change and adaptation (EC 2007a), with a few exceptions. Nor do they consider the inherent resilience of economic sectors/markets and communities, and as a consequence the current water policies may not be up to the challenges faced (underachievement) or distract resources from more urgent issues (overachievement).