EEA shows limited improvements in the ecological status of surface waters in Europe


The European Environment Agency has recently published the 2021 Ecological status of surface water in Europe, which assess the status quality of surface in rivers, lakes, coastal and transitional waters. Achieving good ecological status for surface waters is critical to this.

The Water Framework Directive (WFD) (EU, 2000) stipulates that EU Member States should aim to achieve good status for all surface water and groundwater bodies (EEA, 2018a, 2019). According to countries’ second river basin management plans, good ecological status had been achieved for around 40% of surface waters (rivers, lakes and transitional and coastal waters) by 2015.

However, these plans show only limited improvement in ecological status since the first plans were published in 2009, with ecological status remaining similar for most water bodies. 

Surface waters are important habitats. They are key for supporting society and the economy throughout Europe and clean, unpolluted waters are essential for healthy ecosystems. However, surface waters have traditionally been used as disposal routes for human, agricultural and industrial wastes, damaging water quality. They have also been altered (by building dams and canals, etc.) to facilitate agriculture and urbanisation, produce energy and protect against flooding, all of which can change and degrade habitats.

The indicator assessment illustrates that, to improve and restore nearly 60% of surface waters in the EU, and meet WFD objectives, we need full implementation of management and mitigation measures under the WFD, in combination with full implementation of measures under other relevant directives.


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