New report reveals most of Europe’s river basins will still be unhealthy in 2027

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11 out of 13 river basins studied in various EU countries will still be unhealthy in 2027, new research reveals. This means those countries will miss the legally binding EU target to return Europe’s dirty waters to health by then under the Water Framework Directive (WFD).  

Member States have only six months left to finalise their River Basin Management Plans for the next six years, as required by EU law. The drafts for 2022-2027 are the third round of national plans before the 2027 target, and are Europe’s final opportunity to get things right.  

The report, published by the Living Rivers Europe Coalition [1], including Wetlands International – European Association with support from our members EuroNatur and the Italian Centre for River Restoration, finds that only two out of the 13 analysed river basins – both in Finland – might see good health by 2027. Most of the river basins suffer from a lack of national budget allocated to water management, insufficient integration of water protection into other policies – in particular energy, agriculture and infrastructure – and the multiple misuse of derogations – all issues that were already flagged in the 2019 Fitness Check conclusions of the WFD’s evaluation. 

Paul Brotherton, Freshwater Manager of Wetlands International – European Association, said: “Europe’s freshwater ecosystems are its most biodiverse and threatened. These plans are the first opportunity to announce bold plans to revive our rivers and contribute to the EU’s biodiversity and climate goals. Instead, we see a continued lack of ambition to take the necessary steps and make the needed investments. Many plans insufficiently consider the role of river restoration and nature-based solutions, and lack sufficient integration with flood risk management plans. While this is only a small sample of available plans, the results are highly concerning, as they are likely representative of what’s to come. We urge countries to address these shortcomings and restore our rivers.”

The performance of the draft RBMPs is ‘poor’ for nearly half of the analysed indicators including pollution, excessive water extraction, blockages like dams, poor flood and drought management, agriculture, hydropower, coal mining and missing nature-restoring measures. EU countries – which have until the end of this year to publish their final RBMPs – must address the shortcomings identified in the draft plans to change the future for our freshwaters and meet the 2027 goal. 

Draft River Basin Management Plan scores:

[1] Living Rivers Europe is a coalition of five environmental and angling organisations gathering WWF’s European network, the European Anglers AllianceEuropean Environmental BureauEuropean Rivers Network, The Nature Conservancy and Wetlands International