Water is essential for human health, for socio-economic development and for all life on our planet. The sustainable use and protection of water is therefore of paramount importance. However, water is under severe pressure from a wide range of human activities. The main threats to water include pollution, over-extraction, climate change and habitat destruction.
Under Cohesion Policy programmes for 2021-2027, EUR 16.9 billion of investment is planned for supporting access to water and sustainable water management, of which more than EUR 13.2 billion comes from EU funding.
On this page, you can use interactive charts to explore the planned investments by fund, country and type of action based on Cohesion Open Data.

Protecting water in EU regions

Water is essential for human, animal and plant life, as well as for the economy. Its protection and sustainable management are therefore of vital importance and transcend national boundaries. The EU Water Framework Directive, adopted in 2000, provides a legal framework to protect and restore the EU’s water quality and to ensure its long-term sustainable use. It is complemented by more specific legislation, such as:
  • the Drinking Water Directive
  • the Bathing Water Directive
  • the Groundwater Directive
  • the Floods Directive
  • the Marine Strategy Framework Directive
  • the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive
Marine litter and plastic pollution are also being addressed through the European Strategy for Plastics. In addition, the Zero-Pollution Action Plan, a key deliverable of the European Green Deal, sets ambitious targets and actions to tackle water pollution.
Most people living in the EU have good access to water services, including drinking water and wastewater treatment. This is largely the result of EU legislation and funding. However, in several EU regions, water services are still lacking or insufficient. At the same time, the quality of water resources is threatened by a number of challenges such as persistent organic pollutants and marine litter, and water stress is increasing in EU regions. It is driven by overconsumption of water, mismanagement, and the impacts of climate change, for instance on droughts. All of this require EU regions to invest in a more sustainable water management to increase their water resilience. In order to reduce regional disparities within the EU in terms of access to water and water security, Cohesion Policy funding plays an important role.
In December 2019, the Commission published an evaluation of the EU water legislation, concluding that the water legislation is broadly fit for purpose, but that implementation needs to be accelerated. The evaluation also finds that the directives have led to a higher level of water protection and flood risk management than would have been expected without them, and that the objectives of the directives are as relevant today as when they were adopted, if not more so.

EUR 16.9 billion investment to support access to water and sustainable water management

EU Cohesion Policy is a key instrument to support Member States’ investments in the water sector, thereby strengthening sustainable development and equitable access to water services in all EU regions. 
For the programming period 2021-2027, a total investment of EUR 16.9 billion is foreseen to support access to water and sustainable water management under Cohesion Policy, of which EUR 13.2 billion is in EU funding (situation in June 2024). This amount represents over a 3% share of the total programmed cohesion policy funding .
Note: You can filter the graph on the right by country or programme.

Investment priorities

Under the Cohesion Policy for 2021-2027, the range of investments in the water sector is wide, but there are certain areas that should be prioritised. The most important areas of investments are:
  • investment in drinking water supply following the water hierarchy
  • water reuse for purposes other than drinking water
  • measures to promote tap water in public spaces to ensure better access to water for vulnerable and marginalised groups
  • investment in waste water collection and treatment in urban areas where it is needed to comply with the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive
  • other measures to improve water networks
  • investment in stormwater management
  • measures to improve monitoring where needed to comply with the Water Framework Directive
  • capacity building for municipalities, often project developers and beneficiaries.

Five types of investment focus on access to water and sustainable water management  

For the 2021-2027 programming period there are five types of investment that focus on access to water and sustainable water management. The budgetary allocations for each type of investment are shown in this chart. 
The highest allocation is for waste water collection and treatment. The distribution of investments across the other four investment fields is fairly even, covering water management and conservation, the provision of water for human consumption, energy efficient waste water collection and treatment, and the provision of water for human consumption with energy efficiency criteria.

A specific objective of sustainable water

The five types of investments with the core objective of improving access to water and sustainable water management fall mainly under the specific objective of sustainable water (RSO 2.5). However, there are also small investments under other specific objectives in Cohesion Policy programmes, such as climate change adaptation and nature protection and biodiversity. This is illustrated in the opposite chart.

Funding for sustainable water management varies between Member States

In monetary terms, there are significant differences between Member States in their allocations for access to water and sustainable water management. This is partly explained by differences in the size of national allocations under Cohesion Policy and partly by the priorities set by Member States. The key idea behind Cohesion Policy is to provide more support to less developed Member States and regions in order to reduce economic, social and environmental disparities within the EU.
Romania has allocated the largest EUR amount to water sector under Cohesion Policy. Several other countries have also significant allocations from the funds contributing to access to water and sustainable water management (e.g. Poland, Spain and Italy). Five countries have decided not to use Cohesion Policy funds to contribute to access to water and sustainable water management.
Note: In the graph below, TC means territorial cooperation, i.e. Interreg.

Member States differ in the composition of investment

Depending on the specific development needs of EU countries and regions, the composition of investment contributing to the improvements in water sector varies between Member States. Looking at the five investment fields with access to water and sustainable water management as a core objective, most Member States have generally chosen to invest in a combination of fields, but there are also several Member States which have decided to invest in only one type of investment, like Estonia and Belgium. Member States also differ in the share of their investment priorities. For example, Hungary plans to invest most of its share in water management and water resource conservation, followed by waste water collection and treatment. In some other Member States, the provision of water for human consumption and investments in wastewater collection and treatment dominate investments (e.g. Slovenia, Greece or Bulgaria). The chart below shows the share of each type of intervention in the total allocation for sustainable water management by Member State.

Indicators measure the benefits of water investments supported

Cohesion Policy programmes use common indicators and specific national / regional indicators to measure the actions undertaken and the benefits of the investments. The indicators are divided into output and result indicators. Output indicators reflect the direct deliverables of the actions financed by the programmes, while result indicators measure the outcomes (direct benefits) of the interventions supported. In the period 2021-2027, output and result indicators are directly linked to the actions supported.
For access to water and sustainable water management, there are a total of three common output indicators and three common result indicators for the period 2021-2027. The output indicators measure the length of new or improved pipelines for public water supply distribution systems (km), the length of new or improved pipelines for the public waste water collection network (km) and the additional waste water treatment capacity newly installed or improved by the supported projects (population equivalent*). The result indicators measure the additional population served by at least secondary public waste water treatment as a result of the supported projects (persons), the population connected to improved public water supply as a result of the implemented projects (persons) and water losses in public water supply distribution systems** (cubic meters per year). The charts below show the overall evolution of the target values, decided values and implemented values of the indicators as the programme period progresses. 
The common indicators do not cover all eligible actions in the field of access to water and sustainable water management, so there can also be other outputs and results. Programmes also use programme-specific indicators, which cannot be aggregated to the EU level. 

* Population equivalent is defined as the organic biodegradable load having a five-day biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) of 60 g oxygen per day. (See Council Directive 91/271/EC in references).
** The indicator covers water losses only for the pipes financed by the supported projects. The baseline refers to the annual volume of water losses for the relevant pipes in the year before the start of the intervention. The target refers to the annual volume of water losses in the year following the physical completion of the project, and it can be zero if the intervention is 100% successful in eliminating water losses in the respective part of the network. The indicator is used to calculate the percentage reduction in water losses as a result of the projects supported.

Common output indicators

Common result indicators

Examples of projects funded in the period 2014 - 2020

How could investments in 2021-2027 be translated into concrete projects? Some ideas from the 2014-2020 funding period show what is possible:
1) Improved regional water supply system in Croatia’s Zagreb county
The project has made substantial investments in water supply systems in Croatia's Zagreb County, the area surrounding the national capital, Zagreb within the Continental Croatia region. The project will merge existing subsystems into a single Zagreb-East regional water supply system, which should provide residents with good quality water in sufficient quantities. In technical terms, the work under the project comprises the construction of a new water source in the form of a well and the laying of 27.7 km of new main transmission pipeline. The pipeline should address existing and forecasted water supply constraints.
Total investment for the project is EUR 116 300 701, with the EU's Cohesion Fund contributing EUR 63 678 138.
Link to the project

2) Regional project for the development of water and used water infrastructure in Valcea county, Romania
The overall objective of the project is to improve the water and sanitation infrastructure in the municipalities of Valcea county included in the project, in order to fulfil the obligations established by the Accession Treaty and the relevant European Directives. The project contributes to the socio-economic development of the area by improving living conditions and reducing the risk of disease in rural areas by developing/establishing wastewater collection systems and by ensuring the supply of quality drinking water. Access to safe and quality water and sanitation services will also stimulate companies, investors and developers to invest in the project area.
Total investment for the project is EUR 105 513 062 with the EU’s Cohesion Fund contributing EUR 89 686 105.
Link to the project

3) Water supply and water-infrastructure development in the boundary catchment areas
Climate change is leading to more frequent periods of water scarcity and periods of water abundance, affecting both sides of the Hungarian-Serbian border. Due to its geographical location, the region has also experienced  frequent floods. At the same time, the amount of available drinking water has decreased significantly.
The aim of the project is to improve the water management in the region, to increase the protection of people living in the border region, to contribute to ecological water management, to increase the quantity and quality of water, and thus to improve the socio-economic situation of the municipality and the border region.
Total investment for the project is EUR 6 980 608, with the EU contribution of EUR 5 933 517.
Link to the project