EU new ways to regulate the reuse of water and the water pollution

As you may have noticed, some parts of Europe are receiving less rain and there is also increasing evidence to support this, states the European Commission. Besides the domestic consumption, water is a key resource for many sectors in Europe and some measures are being taken to tackle the situation.

On one hand, the 26th of June, new requirements for the safe reuse of treated wastewater in agricultural irrigation were approved by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. This way, the use of this wastewater will be safe, transparent, and accessible to farmers for crop irrigation. The Water Reuse Regulation, WRR, will apply in all Member States, except those that will use a regulatory opt-out clause. There is a map available with all the information about the countries that are following this rule as well as where water reuse is not allowed.

This is great news, since only 2.4% of the total urban wastewater is being reclaimed and reused in the EU, even though some Member States already had deployed water reuse before the WRR was approved. However, the amount of treated wastewater reclaimed by each country varies from 5% in most of the cases, to 89% in others. Water reuse is a challenge that offers plenty of possibilities to make the use of water more efficient.

Transboundary cooperation is key to implement this regulation, since many countries share rivers or water bodies, and the Member States have the possibility to decide whether they want to introduce this practice or not. The WWR sets harmonised minimum water quality requirements and monitoring requirements as well as risk management provisions to address potential health risks.

The WRR also represents a good opportunity to contribute to the Water Action Agenda adopted at the 2023 United Nations Water Conference, which highlighted the place of water as a fundamental human right, the reduction of pressure on the hydrological system and alternative food systems to reduce the unsustainable use of water in food production and agriculture as key game-changers.

In this sense, to decrease Europe’s pressures on water resources, the use of treated wastewater can contribute to several EU strategies: to the European Green Deal, both to the Circular Economy Action plan and to the EU Climate Adaptation Strategy; the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive has a proposal for its revision ongoing, which encourages water reuse as well as the Farm To Fork Strategy.

A call for action towards non-polluted water

“On 26 October 2022 the European Commission tabled a proposal to revise the lists of surface water and groundwater pollutants that need to be monitored and controlled for the purpose of protection of EU freshwater bodies, and the associated environmental quality standards”, said the European Parliament in this briefing for the EU legislation in progress. After this decision last year, the European Union continues focusing on water as a priority within the Zero Pollution Action Plan and the Green Deal and, in addition to the Water Reuse Regulation, the European Parliament is also showing the intention to lower water pollution.

Some Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) on the Environment Committee have supported the inclusion of new substances on the list of Pollutants in EU water, an action that reinforces the proposal of October 2022. These substances include 24 Perfluoroalkoxy alkanes (PFAS), which are used as materials to handle aggressive chemicals in within the chemical-processing industry; several pesticides; and, also, pharmaceuticals for the first time.

The goal of this legislative intention is to monitor and control the presence of these substances in surface and groundwater, to set stricter thresholds for pollutants and to measure other stressors like temperature. It also recognises the vulnerability of groundwater and the need to reduce pollution at source; and rejects the weakening of thresholds for non-drinking water sources.

According to the European Environmental Bureau, this MEPs support includes:

  • A call to speed up the review of the lists of EU pollutants to reflect scientific developments;
  • Reject decreasing monitoring efforts for substances of emerging concern;
  • Reject the removal of the deadline to phase out priority hazardous substances, like mercury;
  • A proposal to introduce an Extended Producer Responsibility scheme which would see industry contributing to the cost of monitoring the substances they put on the market and that ultimately end up in our waters.  

These two legislation news are very welcome at REWAISE, since the project’s goal is to contribute to a Water-Smart society through water technology.