Water will increasingly become the strategic resource par excellence. Water is not available to all people in sufficient quality and quantity. There are enormous water resources on earth, however, drinking water, which is of vital importance, constitutes only an extremely small portion of the total water quantity. Usable drinking water reservoirs are distributed unevenly over the continents and are frequently subject to strong (seasonal) variations.
Due to its geographical position and topography, Austria has, compared to other countries. vast drinking water resources and reserves.
If we look at the all-European situation we get a rather different picture: As Europe is in general not considered to be an arid continent, many may be surprised to learn that almost half of the European population lives in countries where water is scarce, and where too large quantities of water are drawn from the existing sources of freshwater. Water scarcity is found in 33 river catchment areas of the EU!
Estimates suggest that more than 1 billion people world-wide lack access to clean drinking water. According to the present UNESCO World Water Development Report population growth, rising consumption, and the higher standard of living will further aggravate the dramatic water scarcity already existing in many regions of the world.
If the population is growing at today’s rate, the demand for water will in agriculture alone increase by 70 to 90 percent. Economic growth and the changed lifestyle additionally aggravate the situation e.g. meat consumption is rapidly rising. Meat production is particularly water-intensive. To feed livestock, large amounts of cereals and water are consumed. Up to 16,000 litres of water are needed to produce one kilogramme of beef! This corresponds to the content of approx. 80 bathtubs.
According to UNESCO data the extraction of water from rivers, lakes, and groundwater has tripled over the past 50 years. On a global level, 70% of the water is used in agriculture, 20 % in industry and 10% in households.
In Austria the situation looks completely different: Here next to 7% are used in agriculture, approx. 67% in industry and commerce (not including water for cooling), and approx. 27% in households.
As a consequence of the increasing demand for water also the competition between the individual groups of interests like drinking water supply, agriculture, energy supply, or industry, is getting tougher. Climate change adds to the scarcity of water – in most cases in the regions of the earth which are among the driest and poorest of the world already now.
An overarching policy for water has to integrate infrastructural, commercial, as well as financial policy, a fact which the European Union has realised many years ago EU Water Framework Directive).
Future generations, too, should be able to draw on sufficient water resources of excellent quality. In Austria this objective is anchored in the imperative imposed by the Water Rights Act that all groundwater throughout the federal territory must be usable as drinking water. This ensures that Austria will not have to rely on processing surface water in order to obtain drinking water, even in the future.