European Water Policy - Big Jump Challenge - Toolbox

European water policy

Can a youth campaign for freshwater protection help to put a European law into practice? And what is this law about actually?





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What Does The Big Jump have to do with the Water Framework Directive?
The European River Swimming Day was launched in order to attract the attention of as many people as possible on the successes and shortcomings of European water protection (see also: The Big Jump and the WFD). This is so important because although the EU had put into place a framework for water protection in 2000, the implementation of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) has still not been sucessfully adopted, or only partially adopted, in many European countries. Without the attention and support of the population, it will be almost impossible to enforce the ambitious goals of the WFD for European waters ahead of other interests. But most don't even know there are strict rules for water protection.


What is so special about the requirements of the EU Water Framework Directive?

The WFD aims for the protection and improvement of the state of freshwater quality, so that in the future, freshwater is used in a balanced way and managed in a sustainable manner. Accordingly, the WFD stipulates, among other things, that the administration and management of water bodies may no longer be guided by political or administrative boundaries. Usually, rivers don't simply end at county, state, or national borders. Therefore, all authorities that lie within each watershed or river basin must work together in terms of water protection. The primary environmental objective of the WFD is that all freshwater bodies reach the status of "good condition" by 2015, which corresponds to being as close as possible to undisturbed, natural waters. On the way, one requirement is: the status will be improved. Additionally there is a prohibition against deterioration, namely that the condition of the water body must not be degraded. This legal basis helps to prevent more serious impacts on freshwater bodies.


Why HAS the WFD not been implemented everywhere by the target year of 2015?

When it comes to water protection, it always comes down to conflicts with other interests: for container ships, waterways should be deepened, for energy, new dams and hydroelectric power plants are in the works, there are demands for new technical flood protection systems, and in many regions commercial farms want their fields as close to the water's edge as possible, since this makes sense from a business perspective - but not a nature protection point of view. There is much controversy even on the question of what procedures are allowed by the water. Even more difficult is if interventions are to be reversed. For many years, people have tried everything to protect as much land as possible from flooding and erosion by rivers. Even if only a small part of an artificial bank reinforcement is removed, a dam dismantled, or a dyke retarded in one place, the land is affected. And because it belongs to someone, you need a lot of money or a lot of persuasion, and in many cases both - to solve the problems of our rivers.

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Wild rivers & Policy

Wild rivers are rare – and so is policy to protect them. The most important water protection policy in Europe is the European Water Framework Directive. It aims at good ecological and chemical status of rivers in Europe. But it does not say anything specific about the protection of wild rivers. Yet wild rivers are under threat due to industrialization, and especially hydropower development. So what can be done?

Download instruction for module here [PdF]

Short film and discussion (45 min)

Watch this short film about the implementation of the WFD in Germany (language: DE/subtitles: EN): (Flussversöhnung)

Discuss the following questions:

  • The implementation status of the WFD for Germany – is it all good, bad or somewhere in the middle? Why?
  • One request of the WFD is to involve the community. Why is active participation considered as important for the implementation of the WFD?
  • Have you been involved in river management so far? What might be a good way to get people engaged?
Guess Game (45min)

This guess game provides you with an introduction to water conservation in Europe. Specifically, it introduces, in a playful way, the state of implementation for water conservation policies in all of the European Union (EU) countries - and some more as you will see when playing the game.


Please download the game instructions here:

Open the game:


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You want to find out about the state of implementation of water conservation policies in your country? You should take a look at the instructions for writing cross-country authority letters!

Or go back to the toolbox overview and pick out another interesting topic!


Come by and check it out again, we regularly update the Toolbox with new ideas!

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