Environmental News and Issues / SILnews 29

Environmental News and Issues / SILnews 29

Environmental Status of Lakes and Reservoirs in Europe

The European Environment Agency (EEA) has issued a report (Topic Report No. 1/1999) entitled ‘Lakes and Reservoirs in the EEA Area’ prepared by J. Leonard (Office International de l’Eau) and P. Crouzet (Institut Français de l’Environnement).

The report presents results of work carried out between 1995 and 1997 by the European Topic Centre on Inland Waters (ETC/IW). The objectives were to review the physical, chemical and ecological characteristics of lakes and reservoirs, describe their uses and evaluate their environmental state and trends. The geographical scope of the report was the 18 EEA member countries but only 15 supplied data.

A European Lakes, Dams and Reservoirs Database (ELDRED) was constructed to organize data collected via two questionnaires sent to member countries. The study indicated a wide range of environmental situations for lakes and reservoirs in Europe. Two main themes emerged: environmental problems affecting lake and reservoir ecosystems and uses, and impacts on the environment caused directly or indirectly by reservoir construction.

Some of the major conclusions of the report are:

  • Eutrophication affects significant numbers of lakes and reservoirs across the whole of Europe, largely caused by phosphorus. Only in sparsely populated regions such as parts of the Nordic regions, Ireland and Scotland are there a high proportion of lakes with low P concentrations.
  • Although the lack of data did not permit firm conclusions, it would appear that the proportion of lakes with high P concentrations has decreased over the last few decades. This is probably due to specific action programmes and general improvements in wastewater treatment facilities. Some lakes have been the focus of detailed studies and efficient action programmes to reduce nutrient loads in the catchment have produced signs of water quality improvement. However, the state of European lakes and reservoirs is still of concern as the situation seems to be worsening in many other lakes with previously moderate or low P levels.
  • Numerous hydropower reservoirs, often located in mountainous or Nordic regions, were distinguished from generally smaller irrigation and public water supply reservoirs situated in lowland and southern regions, which tend to have longer renewal times. These latter reservoirs are more likely to be subject to higher nutrient loads and their uses are particularly sensitive to eutrophication.
  • Acidification is a more regional issue, and some signs of improvement due to earlier atmospheric sulphur reductions are being observed. However, nitrate leaching appears to be an increasingly important factor in determining acidification.
  • Although historic drainage of lakes has led to the destruction of important lake habitats, in some cases it has created new wetland habitats.
  • Lake and reservoir ecosystems and uses are particularly sensitive to water pollution because of their tendency to accumulate pollutants in water or in sediments. Occurrences of heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants (POPs) have been observed in several lakes and reservoirs in the EEA area.
  • The effects of dam/reservoir construction and operations on rivers was considered to be significant. Dams constructed in earlier periods, when environmental considerations were not systematically integrated into their design, tend to lack facilities which would enable their environmental impacts to be minimized.

Copies of the report can be obtained from:

European Environment Agency
Kongens Nytorv 6
DK-1050 Copenhagen K
E-mail: eea@eea.eu.int

Signature of the new Convention on the Protection of the Rhine

When the Governments of the five Rhine bordering countries (Germany, France, Luxembourg, Netherlands and Switzerland) and the European Community signed the new Convention on the Protection of the Rhine in Bern on April 12, 1999 all contracting parties formally confirmed to continue protecting the precious character of the Rhine, its banks and alluvial areas by reinforcing their co-operation. Thus a new basis under international law has been created for international Rhine protection policy in the 21st century.

The main target of the new Convention is to sustainably develop the Rhine ecosystem. The contracting parties confirmed to continue improving water and sediment quality of the Rhine in order to provide drinking water for more than 20 million people. The stream function and natural habitats for animals and plants typical for the Rhine are to be preserved or restored and their development is to be supported. Another important field of action incorporated in the new Convention on the Rhine is that of holistic flood prevention and flood protection which clearly reduces damages and takes into account ecological requirements at the same time. The new Convention on the Rhine thus goes far beyond the old Bern Convention of 1963 which only concentrated on aspects of Rhine water pollution.

Reprinted with permission from: Topic Rhine, June 1999, No. 17

For further information, contact:

International Commission for the Protection of the Rhine (ICPR)
P.O. Box 20 02 53
D-56002 Koblenz
E-mail: iksr@rz-online.de
Phone: +49 261 12495
Fax: +49 261 36572
http://www.iksr.org >>>

European Environment Agency Reports

In September the European Environment Agency (EEA) released two reports which will be of interest to SIL members. The first is ‘Sustainable water use in Europe, Part 1: Sectoral use of water’ (Environmental Assessment Report No. 1). The report is the first in a series on ‘Sustainable water use in Europe’, and examines and assesses available information on the sectoral use of water. The report aims to inform and provide information for policy- and decision-makers at both the national and European level. It highlights the need to improve existing information by establishing reliable definitions, a common understanding, and quantitative and consistent records on a European scale.

The second report, ‘Groundwater quality and quantity in Europe’ (Environmental Assessment Report No. 3), presents the first Pan-European overview of groundwater quality and quantity. It comes with a companion document which provides data and basic information (Technical Report No. 22). As groundwater is a major source of drinking water all over Europe and plays important roles within the environment, these are important and timely documents. The reports examine important groundwater quality indicators such as nitrate, pesticides, chloride, alkalinity, pH and electrical conductivity. Emphasis is placed on nitrate and pesticides. Quantitative issues addressed include groundwater over-exploitation, saltwater intrusion and wetlands endangered by groundwater over-exploitation.

Copies of the reports are available from:

Office for Official Publications of the European Communities
2, rue Mercier
L-2985 Luxembourg
E-mail: info.info@opoce.cec.be
Phone: (352) 29 29-42455
Fax: (352) 29 29-42758