Skip to main content

Resilient European Cities: Nature-based Solutions for Clean Water

Resilient European Cities: Nature-based Solutions for Clean Water

© The Nature Conservancy


Resilient European Cities: Nature-based Solutions for Clean Water


Trémolet S. & Karres N. (2020). Resilient European Cities: Nature-based Solutions for Clean Water. The Nature Conservancy. London, United Kingdom.

Diffuse  pollution  is  one  of  the  key  reasons  European  water  bodies  are  failing to meet environmental objectives as specified in the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD). Outbreaks  of  toxic  green  algae  affect  rivers,  lakes  and  coastal  waters creating so-called "dead zones" where no aquatic life can thrive. Such outbreaks are by-products of dangerously increasing nutrient levels in water. Nutrient and soil losses have been recognised as challenges for decades across Europe  and  have  been  a  key  driver  for freshwater  biodiversity  losses.  With  climate change, these challenges are likely to get worse: higher temperatures, lower  river  flows  and  more  frequent  and  more  violent  flooding  events.  Other human-induced changes (such as dams and weirs) have modified the course of rivers and affected their natural flows.

This report examines how European cities can turn to nature-based solutions (NbS) to protect the water resources on which they depend, contributing to improving environmental quality in upstream watersheds. Specific objectives include:

  • Identifying  European  cities  that  are  particularly  exposed  to  diffuse  pollution  due  to  changes  in  land  use  and  poor  land  management  practices;
  • Assessing the potential for a selected range of nature-based solutions to  mitigate  diffuse  pollution  challenges  and  generate  benefits  for  people and nature, when deployed at scale;
  • Helping   water   sector   stakeholders,   policymakers,   funders   and   financiers to identify practical ways to prioritise and deploy investments in nature-based solutions for water security (NbS-WS) in Europe.  

Ecologic Institute and its partner EMVIS Consultant Engineers have supported The Nature conservancy (TNC) in the preparation of this report, in particular by identifying European cities relevant for analysis and supporting the development of the methodology to assess the effectiveness and costs of NbS-WS implementation.


More content from this project

Sophie Trémolet
Nathan Karres

Research support was provided by a team of researchers including:

The report benefited from reviews and comments contributed by Daniel Shemie, Andras Krolopp, Rob McDonald and Kerstin Pfliegner (TNC), Manuel Lago and Ulf Stein (Ecologic Institute), Barbara Anton (ICLEI), Kathleen Dominique (OECD) and Josefina Maestu (Spanish Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge).

Published by
118 pp.
Project ID
Table of contents
surface water quality, groundwater quality, floods, water scarcity, nature based solutions, agricultural practices
Manchester, United Kingdom, Madrid, Spain, Europe
case study