"Lakes and watercourses must be ecologically sustainable and their variety of habitats must be preserved. Natural productive capacity, biological diversity, cultural heritage assets and the ecological and water-conserving function of the landscape must be preserved, at the same time as recreational assets are safeguarded."
Lakes and watercourses are under pressure from many quarters, including forestry, agriculture, industry and hydroelectric power. Many plant and animal species are dependent on free-flowing rivers and streams, and naturally fluctuating water levels. This may conflict with our wish to build houses near lake shores and riverbanks, or our need to regulate river flow to generate electricity.
Preserving the natural productive capacity of aquatic environments is also important. Rivers are used for example for fishing and provide drinking water. Fresh waters are important for recreation too, for instance for bathing and boating. In their vicinity, moreover, there is valuable cultural heritage that needs to be conserved and managed so that it can be enjoyed by generations to come.
What are the challenges?
A good deal remains to be done to achieve good environmental status in our lakes and watercourses. Currently, one of the biggest threats to biodiversity is physical disturbance from hydroelectric schemes. Regulation of rivers causes fragmentation and, in the worst cases, complete loss of species’ habitats.
Many valuable waters, including both cultural environments and some drinking water sources, still lack long-term protection. Bacteria and other microbial contaminants are already a problem for drinking water supplies. In the longer term, the climate change now under way could increase the risks to health arising from the spread of pollutants and pathogenic organisms.
Progress in restoring disturbed fresh waters is slow. If a sufficient number of ecologically sustainable and diverse habitats are to be reinstated, both the financial and the legal frameworks for restoring rivers and streams need to be strengthened.