Water quantity and quality


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The OECD projects that demand for water is set to increase by 55% between 2010 and 2050, due to growing demand from manufacturing, energy generation and domestic use. There will be increasing competition for water amongst uses and users, putting ecosystems at risk. Groundwater depletion may become the greatest threat to agriculture and urban water supplies in several regions in the coming decades. Climate change will only exacerbate these tensions, as uncertainty rises about future water availability and demand.




Contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) comprise a vast array of substances that have only recently appeared in water, or that are of recent concern because they have been detected at concentrations significantly higher than expected, or their risk to human and environmental health may not be fully understood. Examples include pharmaceuticals, industrial and household chemicals, personal care products, pesticides, manufactured nanomaterials, and their transformation products. The number of CECs is continuously evolving as new chemical compounds are produced, and improvements in science increase our understanding of the effects of current and past contaminants on human and environmental health.

The OECD is embarking on a two-year project to develop policy guidance for governments of member countries to cost-effectively reduce CECs in freshwater and their associated risks to human and environmental health. The OECD will inventory policies in place in member countries and explore opportunities for innovative policy responses building on new scientific knowledge or methods.

To advance the project and inform the final report, the OECD Workshop on Managing Contaminants of Emerging Concern in Surface Waters was held in Paris on 5 February 2018. The workshop was dedicated to bringing together the chemical safety and the water quality policy communities to discuss common issues and how to address them. The Summary Record, speaker presentations, agenda and list of participants are available on the workshop webpage.

A final report will be launched late 2018/early 2019.


In that context, the ability to allocate water where it creates most value is a condition for sustainable growth, social equity and environmental performance. The OECD has reviewed prevailing water allocation regimes in a range of countries and has derived policy messages on the design of water allocation regime and the transition towards effective ones. Recent work provides policy guidance on how the design of allocation regimes can be tailored to adjust for the distinctive characteristics of groundwater resources.



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Tackling the diffuse water pollution challenge

OECD countries have struggled to adequately address diffuse water pollution. It is much easier to regulate point source industrial and municipal polluters than engage with a large number of farmers and other land-users where variable factors like climate, soil and politics come into play. But, as the report points out, the cumulative effects of diffuse water pollution can be devastating for human well-being and ecosystem health. Ultimately, they can undermine sustainable economic growth. The report also presents a risk-based policy framework to tackle this challenge. Innovative policy responses need to be replicated, adapted and scaled-up if they are to have an effect.



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More work is ongoing on the management of floods and droughts and agriculture.


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