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Managing demand for water: research points the way to best policy practices

Our supply of water is threatened by inefficient use, population growth and climate change. A special issue of Science for Environment Policy published online today [21 June 2012] presents academic research findings to help policymakers face up to these challenges and implement plans to ensure a safe and secure supply of this precious resource, both now and well into the future.

Best practices for cutting household consumption, wastewater recycling programmes, and economic policy instruments to offer incentives for more efficient water use, are just some of the means of encouraging savings highlighted by the special ‘Managing Water Demand, Reuse and Recycling’ issue of DG Environment’s news service, available to download for free from: For example, in an assessment of several residential water conservation programmes in the US, scientists concluded that water efficient household appliances, including environmentally-friendly showerheads and washing machines, are effective and able to cut water consumption by an average of 14% for participating households. Water recycling and rainwater collection offer promising means of cutting overall water abstraction, but, presently, come with some risks alongside significant benefits. Researchers have highlighted the tough challenges that must be overcome if alternative sources of water, such as these, are to be used on a widespread scale. For example, the high energy demands of water treatment must be reduced, and improved public communication to address the potential and perceived risks of consuming reused water is needed. A better understanding of how different user groups, such as farmers, industry and urban populations, use water are essential to developing new systems for allocating water to these groups, it is also argued in this issue. The effects of pricing strategies can also be effective in managing demand for water, as a Cypriot case study confirms, but the possible effects of higher bills on poorer households must be given careful consideration. “Many may think of Europe as plentiful in water, but, in reality, scarcity and drought are already plaguing many European countries and this situation could very easily become much worse without careful management”, says guest editor Dr Jaroslav Mysiak of the Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei in Italy. “Thankfully, the water policy agenda this year is bursting and provides the prime opportunity to use scientific studies, such as those featured in this issue, to take stock of the challenges we face and implement robust plans to meet them.” 2012 marks the European Year of Water, and the EU is set to adopt the Blueprint to Safeguard European Waters in November this year, which will seek to identify policy options to better manage water, integrate water-efficiency priorities into policy and face up to the challenges presented by climate change, such as the increased possibility of drought.


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