Water represents one of the most important resources sustaining biological systems, but also socio-economic and cultural developments. As a matter of fact the need for high-quality freshwater in Europe has been increasing by a factor of ten since the beginning of the 20th century. Due to their geographic situation and topographic feature the Alps are a major freshwater collector and hydrological storage system in Europe. Thus they provide considerable amounts of various water resources feeding fundamental needs for human and natural life in the alpine region, but evenly in adjacent areas of Europe. The reliable availability and high quality of alpine freshwater resources and potentials are of growing concern to the European Community.
Some of these concerns to be mentioned are the production of electricity by hydropower plants, an ever increasing demand of drinking, irrigation and industrial water as well the use for providing tourist infrastructure, in particular for generating artificial snow by snow canons. Of course all these activities impose an enormous strain for the irritable ecological systems of the Alps. Additionally a relocation of management and control of access and use of the alpine water resources into external alpine areas has taken place within the last years, in particular with respect to the use of hydropower and to the future privatisation and liberalisation of the European water sector. Concomitantly this leads to a decreasing self-determination of the alpine area, i.e. of its political entities. Water often is regarded as commodity for agricultural or industrial productions or for trade. Social, ecological and vital implications in the different alpine eco-spheres are not considered. Therefore new perspectives and strategies for a sustainable management of water resources are required in the Alps, the Water Tower of Europe.
Dr. Simon Meißner