The European Environment Agency (EEA) wants the current climate change debate to focus on water efficiency at least as heavily as it does on energy efficiency and the energy performance of buildings.
As the EU's Energy Performance of Buildings Directive will come under heavy scrutiny in the new EU legislature, more attention should be given to water efficiency, said Jacqueline McGlade, the EEA's executive director, addressing a meeting of the European Water Partnership on 29 September.
"There are many technological solutions out there that have not yet made it to urban planning and I'm amazed that there is no smart metering for water, for example," she said.
Declaring herself "deadly serious about changing urban planning," McGlade asked politicians and engineers to "think completely differently" and consider options such as bringing vertical farming to cities.
Water, a political problem
Meanwhile, Spanish MEP Cristina Gutierrez Cortines (EPP) said water is not a priority in the EU as "politicians are afraid to touch something that is related to everything". She said they would prefer to regulate something well-defined, like emissions from industry, avoiding "politically dangerous" subjects such as land or water.
While it is impossible to talk about climate change mitigation and adaptation without addressing water and land, "MEPs of the new legislature, unfortunately, don't want to talk about water," she said, referring to unofficial discussions with her fellow colleagues.
Water resource accounts ready by end 2009
Jacqueline McGlade said that the EEA will produce "water accounts" for Europe's river basins by the end of 2009. "We need 'physical accounts' for water, like bank accounts, to know how much water we have" and to keep an eye on the management of the asset, McGlade said.
These "water balances" will be developed based on the United Nations' system of environmental-economic accounting for water and will be provided on a monthly basis, reflecting water stress throughout the year.
According to the agency, the accounts will also help "distinguish the impact of water abstraction on observed water availability from that of drought," and quantify the contribution of each sector to total water consumption.
While the objective of the EU's Water Framework Directive (WFD ) is to make all sectors pay for the true cost of water, WWF Water Policy Officer Sergey Moroz regretted that member states' draft river basin management plans had failed to address the objective of reducing wastage of water.
A number of "free-rider sectors" still exist and member states have failed to seize the opportunity presented by water pricing as a tool to improve water efficiency, Moroz said.
Chemical cocktails in water a concern
McGlade stressed that the EU also needs to catch up with the rest of the world regarding water research. In particular, "we need to figure out how to use the information got from space" through the EU's Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES ) programme. GMES data can help estimate changes to the amount of groundwater, precipitation and surface water, for example.
She also stressed that more, quicker and smarter research on the chemical content of waterbeds was needed. "We have a creeping suspicion that a lot of chemicals that are not so benign as we thought end up at low dose in waterbeds, and we have no information on them," she said.