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Unbeerlieveable – is dirty beer the future? 100 environmental groups launch campaign to save water laws

Imagine a world where your beer looked, smelt and tasted like dirty water. That’s the scenario 100 NGOs across Europe want to prevent as they launch a new campaign #ProtectWater, calling on the European Commission to defend the law that protects all sources of water during its current review.

9 October 2018

A lot of things go into beer production, but it all starts with good quality water - which makes up to 95% of our beer. Imagine a world where your beer looked, smelt and tasted like dirty water. That’s the scenario 100 NGOs[1 ] across Europe want to prevent as they launch a new campaign calling on the European Commission to defend the law that protects all sources of water, such as rivers, lakes, wetlands and groundwater, during its current review.

It is essential to support this law in the UK, as any weakening of this EU legislation will be transposed into UK law post-Brexit and will mean weaker protections for our waters.

The #ProtectWater campaign, uses provocative videos and imagery around the future of beer to encourage people across the UK and Europe to participate in the European Commission’s public consultation on the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD), which is running until 4 March 2019. This is the only opportunity for the general public to express their support to keep water protections strong and effective. To get involved people can simply and quickly sign-up at

Whilst the scenarios painted in the campaign might seem extreme, European beer companies are indeed worried about the future quality of water in Europe, and several have issued a joint statement. All of these companies recognise that their ability to produce good quality beer relies on the protection and sustainable management of Europe’s water sources, and therefore support the WFD in its current form.

Andreas Baumüller, Head of Natural Resources at WWF’s European Policy Office, said: ‘Member States’ half-hearted implementation of the EU water law is a crime in itself, but their desperate attempts to weaken it - and before the Commission’s fitness check has even concluded - is a step too far. We urge citizens across Europe and beyond to join forces through the #ProtectWater campaign and make their voices heard. We all need clean water, and without the Water Framework Directive, this will be under serious threat. Act now to defend the EU water law!’

Hannah Freeman, Senior Government Affairs Officer at Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) and Chair of the Blueprint for Water group in the UK, said: ‘The Water Framework Directive has had a massive impact in the UK, including getting water companies to invest billions in cleaning up our rivers and restoring our aquatic habitats. Protecting this law is essential to defend our basic human right to clean water and for all nature to thrive.’

Arlin Rickard, CEO at The Rivers Trust, said: ‘Our rivers are under a huge strain, and with climate-change induced drought and agricultural production on the rise this pressure is only set to grow. We urge the public to back this campaign and secure strong water protections that also protect our birds, beasts, bugs and even our beer.’

Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Angling Trust & Fish Legal, said: ‘We already have some of the least healthy rivers in Europe. Weakening these laws would inevitably lead to a deterioration in our waterways which affects the fish and other animals that live in them and the quality of the water, and beer, that we drink. Signing this petition is a vote for healthy nature in our rivers and clean drinks in your stomach.’

Freshwater ecosystems are the most threatened on the planet [2]. Sixty percent of EU waters are not healthy today because Member States have allowed them to be exploited and damaged for example by unsustainable agriculture and destructive infrastructure such as dams. Shockingly only 14% of rivers in England are classed as healthy. [3] Through the WFD, Member States agreed to achieve “good status” for their waters by 2027 at the very latest. 2027 is also the year which the #ProtectWater campaign playfully poses as the fictional ‘expiration date’ for good beer.

Where political will exists, the WFD provides an effective framework for addressing the main pressures facing our waters [4], but Member States need to significantly step up their efforts and funding if the 2027 deadlines are to be achieved. Results to improve the health of their waters have been few and far between, and Member States are now discussing how the law can be weakened to introduce greater flexibility for themselves.

More information about the #ProtectWater campaign is available at:


Notes to editors:

1. The #ProtectWater campaign is led by WWF EU, the European Environmental Bureau, European Anglers Alliance, European Rivers Network and Wetlands International, who together form the Living Rivers Europe coalition and have more than 40 million supporters between them. More than 80 organisations are backing the campaign. In the UK a coalition of 11 organisations coordinated by Wildlife and Countryside Link are supporting the campaign including: Angling Trust and Fish Legal, British Canoeing, Freshwater Habitats Trust, Institute of Fisheries Management, Marine Conservation Society, The Rivers Trust, RSPB, Salmon and Trout Conservation, Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), WWF-UK and ZSL Zoological Society of London.
2. Living Planet Report, WWF, 2016
3. European waters: Assessment of status and pressures 2018, EEA, 2018
4. Bringing life back to Europe’s waters: The EU water law in action, 2018

>About the Water Framework Directive (WFD) and Living Rivers Europe
• The WFD is one of the EU’s most progressive pieces of environmental legislation. It requires the protection, enhancement and restoration of our rivers, wetlands, lakes and coastal waters, but Member States are currently failing make it work on the ground.
• Under the WFD, EU governments have committed to ensure no deterioration and achieve good status for the vast majority of all water bodies by 2015, and at the very latest by 2027.
• Where implemented, the WFD has proved to be effective in achieving its goals of good water status and non-deterioration, successfully balancing environmental, social and economic requirements.
• The WFD is currently undergoing its standard review in the form of a ‘fitness check’. Every piece of EU legislation goes through this process. The fitness check will look at the relevance, effectiveness, efficiency, coherence and EU added value of the WFD (and its 'daughter’ directives) and the Floods Directive. It includes the ongoing stakeholder consultation and public consultation.
• As the Living Rivers Europe coalition, we are working on safeguarding the EU WFD and strengthening its implementation and enforcement. Click here to read the full Living Rivers Europe vision statement.

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