World Water Day: COST Actions engaged in preserving our most precious resource


Since 1993, World Water Day has been a global initiative backed by the United Nations that highlights the importance of fresh water for our planet and the need to combat its scarcity around the world. It is to remind us that nearly 2.2 billion people still lack access to safe drinking water.

Photo: UN-Water

Water is an essential resource for human health and well-being, agriculture, industry, and ecosystems. Water has become a growing source of conflict in some parts of the world and it can exacerbate tensions within and between countries.

However, despite its vital importance, sustainable water management faces numerous challenges, including scarcity, pollution, water privatisation creating a monopoly on a resource, overexploitation of water resources, and excessive building of dams preventing rivers from distributing mineral-rich water to areas dependent on nutrients for plant growth.

As the population of the world grows and the environment becomes further affected by climate change, access to fresh drinking water is decreasing considerably. To mark this day, we would like to highlight the numerous COST Actions supporting the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 6: Water and Sanitation for all by 2030.

Water is the most precious resource and to contribute to this milestone day, researchers and innovators from diverse COST Actions are engaged to take action to tackle the water and sanitation crisis.  

Through the lens of preserving this essential resource, COST Actions are exploring sustainable solutions, in a multidisciplinary approach and are committed to developing innovative solutions to combat drought stress many new regions face.

Preserving natural resources

The WaterTOP COST Action is a pan-European network on ‘Taste and Odor in early Diagnosis of Source and Drinking Water Problems’. This first European network connects multi-disciplinary experts and international institutions working in the fields of sensory and chemical analyses, water treatment, and risk assessment. Taste and Odour (T&O) are the two drinking water quality parameters that have existed since the dawn of human civilisation. The WaterTOP COST Action works on suggesting preventive/corrective measures for T&O problems in the Water Safety Plans and the development of EU standards for relative methods of T&O testing and materials in contact with water.

Offshore freshened groundwater: An unconventional water resource in coastal regions’ or OFF-SOURCE is a new scientific network addressing if and how offshore freshened groundwater can be used as an unconventional source of potable water in coastal regions.

Freshwater resources in coastal regions are under enormous stress due to population growth, pollution, climate change, and political conflicts. Many coastal cities have already suffered extreme water shortages. The network will develop a joint research agenda and foster collaboration between researchers, professionals, and stakeholders responsible for water resource management in different geographic regions. This will provide tangible recommendations and future market applications, to effectively address water management needs in coastal areas.

Exploring the ground

Developing new genetic tools for the bioassessment of aquatic ecosystems in Europe, DNAqua-Net is a good example of monitoring biodiversity with eDNA and developing new techniques to assess biodiversity and water quality. DNAqua-Net resulted in notable achievements including the creation of an International Open Access Peer Review Journal, the establishment of the EU CEN Working Group on the standardisation of eDNA methodologies, and input to ECO–STAT – the European Commission Working Group on the Water Framework Directive. This is to ensure that there is enough water to support wildlife at the same time as human needs.

The COST Action ‘Water Isotopes in the critical zone: from groundwater recharge to plant transpiration‘ or WATSON is working on understanding water storage and transfer within the ‘Critical Zone’. The Critical Zone is the domain where water cycle dynamics connect the subsurface to vegetation, atmosphere, and climate, controlling water quantity and quality. This is vital to address key environmental and social problems linked to ecosystem services in natural and human-impacted environments: maintaining soil productivity in intensively managed systems, ensuring forest vitality, and improving landscape resilience to natural hazards.

Such an understanding is pivotal to developing sustainable management and use strategies that can ensure a reliable and consistent supply of clean surface water and groundwater, including providing water for human consumption, industry, and agriculture.

Water-Energy-Food Nexus concept

Three green leaves coming out from a central nucleus with NexusNet written in grey below

The running COST Action NexusNet focuses on understanding the need to manage resources in an integrated way. Researchers and decision-makers worldwide recognise the interconnected risks to water, energy, and food security, which highlights the importance of the interactions between these systems through the Water-Energy-Food Nexus concept. With the increasing pressure of climate change, the world is facing problems on a global scale that can only be dealt with effectively through international collaborations.

The PESFOR-W COST Action  ‘Payments for Ecosystem Services (Forests for Water)‘ aimed to synthesise knowledge, provide guidance, and encourage collaborative research to improve Europe’s capacity to use Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) to achieve Water Framework Directive (WFD) targets. This is to ensure the restoration of Europe’s water bodies to “good ecological status” by 2027.

Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) are flexible, incentive-based mechanisms that could play an important role in promoting land use change to deliver water quality targets.

The Action produced a user manual that guides designing appropriate and cost-effective forests for water payment schemes that support tree planting and forest management to improve water quality.

Climate change & water management

Climate change is undeniably reshaping our world, and its impact is increasingly felt in regions across the globe. As a result, the demand for water resources is intensifying, and this heightened competition for water, spanning industrial and civil usage, is diminishing its availability for agriculture.

These challenges are tackled with the COST Action ‘Fruit tree Crop REsponses to Water deficit and decision support Systems applications’ or FruitCREWS. This Action is committed to investigating innovative solutions to ensure the resilience of tree crops and sustainable agriculture in the face of an ever-changing climate. This collaborative network focuses on the responses of fruit tree crops to drought stress. FruitCREWS intends to fortify fruit tree crops against the risks of climate variability while promoting sustainable water management practices.