Water Scarcity: EU Countries Forced to Limit Drinking Water Access

water scarcity europe
Currently, 11 European regions are facing extreme water shortages.

Humanity’s neglect of the environment followed by climate change can now be seen in Europe – through water scarcity. Southern Europeans can now feel them in the form of severe droughts and heat waves. The drought forced European governments to urge citizens to reduce water use to the bare minimum. But in several regions this was not enough.

Private consumption of water in Europe only accounts for 9% of total water use, while about 60% is used by agriculture. According to experts, the problem is not exactly in climate change but rather in how much water is taken from aquifers and how imbalanced the system is. Climate change leads to the reduction of rainfall, and the more scarce precipitation is, the more water is needed in agriculture.

Climatologists only predict further reduction of precipitation levels. Dry winters and summers will become more common. March 2022 was especially dry, with just one-third of the usual volume of rainfall, the post-spring drought in Europe has significantly reduced water levels. Currently, 11 European regions are facing extreme water shortages.


The situation is probably the most dramatic in Northern Italy. The region has been facing the most severe drought since the 1950s. On July 4, 5 regions of Italy declared a state of emergency which is expected to last till the end of the year. The government is determined to provide €36 million in the short term to combat the water crisis.

Because of the drought and scarce rainfall in winter, the water levels of Dora-Baltea and Po – the largest rivers in Italy – have dropped 8 times lower than usual. These rivers feed one of the most important agricultural regions in Europe. Today, about 30% of crops are threatened by the drought.

Major tourist destinations such as Milan, Pisa, and Verona, temporarily disable all decorative water fountains. Tap water is only allowed “for domestic use and personal hygiene”. Failure to comply will result in a 500 fine.


Portugal started to prepare for the dry season back in winter. At the start of 2022, a lack of rainfall and low water levels in dams prompted the government to take restricting measures to guarantee the drinking water supply for Portugal’s 10 million inhabitants for at least two years. What became apparent during the winter is all the more evident today. By the end of May, severe drought already prevailed in 97% of the country.

The water crisis plan implies not only preventive measures, but constant restrictions in process. The association for agricultural irrigation in several towns in Portugal has already activated an emergency plan under which farms have to halve the irrigation of some crops. Portugal’s Minister for Environment and Climate Action Duarte Cordeiro warned in his statement that despite early preparation for the drought season, Portugal will likely have to live with water-related restrictions from now on. This means that the prices may go up dramatically, too.


Spain has been extremely dry too, with about 2/3 of its territory under the risk of desertification. The winter of 2021-2022 turned out to be the second driest since 1961. Water scarcity and little precipitation lead to once fertile soils increasingly turning into sand. This matters not only for the country but for the entire Europe as Spain is the continent’s third-largest producer of agricultural goods. At least 70% of all water in Spain is used for agriculture.

 17 regions in northern Spain are libing in water scarcity. The local governments adopted strict water regulating measures as early as in February. Some towns in Catalonia limit water access to a few hours per day. In the small town of Vacarisses in the province of Barcelona, wells and groundwater pipes are also dry. Currently, people only have running water between six and ten in the morning, and from eight in the evening until midnight.

Juan Barea of Greenpeace Spain believes that Spain will only see the need for drinking water growing. He believes that instead of short-term crisis solutions the government should focus on the long-term perspective, and solutions are needed on every level of the water use system.