Sustainable water management

The goal of the European water framework directive is to restore all natural aquatic environments to good ecological status by 2015.

Inland aquatic ecosystems and water resources are open and complex systems, influenced by many global and local drivers, among which anthropic water and land uses. Reciprocally, they have a strong influence on human activities, through both inputs and risks. On the densely inhabited European continent, footprint of human activities and settlements has developed over centuries, with an increased pace since 50 years.

Water related research is highly scattered over institutes and universities. Involving seven institutions in different countries, with both comparable and complementary competences, the PEER network has the ability to contribute to developing ambitious water related research with interdisciplinary approaches, in close cooperation with Euraqua, the European network of freshwater Research Organisations.

Societal impact and strategic research objectives

Water resources and aquatic ecosystems are crucial natural assets for human societies: health, public safety, food production and economic development. In different places, they are expected to be particularly impacted by the effects of climate change, in conjunction with other global and local drivers.

The objective of PEER multidisciplinary research on water is to provide knowledge, methods and tools for enabling sustainable management of water resources, aquatic ecosystems and anthropic uses of them. This research intends to facilitate the definition and development of European and national policies, as well as their local implementation and collective decision making, in a multi-stakeholders perspective.

Political and administrative frame

The European Water Framework Directive (WFD) has launched a new and innovative water management era, offering with the daughter directives and regulations an ambitious and integrated framework for action. It considers physical instead of administrative boundaries, it sets objectives in terms of results, it introduces economic approaches and participation obligations.

WFD is a major trigger for applied research, which is needed to develop new references and methods, such as: characterisation of good ecological status of water bodies, understanding and modelling of pressure impacts relationships, environmental assessment methods, economic regulation tools and methods for public participation.

The water field is also highly impacted by other European regulations and policies, such as the flood directive, REACH, climate change adaptation and common agricultural policy.

Main sub-fields and areas

Within the diversity of issues and research topics addressed by PEER members, there is a significant emphasis on WFD related research (see above), to begin with understanding and describing freshwater ecology (good ecological status and indicators), or with restoration of aquatic ecosystems.

There is also a clear focus on modelling the behaviour of river catchments and aquifers, considering different components of aquatic ecosystems and water resources.

A third shared issue relates to river basin management, considering various water resources and the different human uses of water. A wide diversity of policies and issues are addressed.

Approach

As mentioned above, research dealing with water resources and aquatic ecosystems is bound to considering systemic approaches, and to developing interdisciplinary work. Time and space scales are important issues: understanding and foreseeing the dynamics of the open and variable water systems, as well as skipping from one space scale to another, calls for strong research efforts.

On the other hand, decision aid oriented research has to deal with uncertainty and present limitations of knowledge. Models developed and decision making approaches must be suited  both to the available data and to decision / management needs.

Water interacts with so many components of the environment and of human activities, that water management must be considered within a broader picture, including land management, or social and political governance.