By Richard Seeber - 25th October 2012
We need to encourage water re-use and recycling
Gaps in implementation, knowledge and efficiency are threatening the adaptation of the EU’s water framework directive, writes Richard Seeber
The 2012 European year of water is drawing to a close. For those following the European water legislation, however, the upcoming weeks promise another crucial water event: the unveiling of the European commission’s blueprint to safeguard Europe’s water.
This communication is going to present policy options to adapt the existing water framework directive (WFD) and its daughter directives to recent water developments and emerging challenges. It seeks to improve EU water policy to ensure good quality water, in adequate quantities. The ensuing policy recommendations are based on the results of several assessments: the analysis of river management plans, review of water scarcity and droughts policy, assessment of water resources and a “fitness check” of freshwater policy.
In order to provide ideas to the commission on this very topic, I have drafted an own-initiative report at the European parliament which was adopted almost unanimously. This implementation report investigated gaps regarding the member states’ current status of WFD implementation and highlighted priorities that ought to be considered in the commission proposal.
Although with the WFD an ambitious instrument is already in place, the implementation rate is unsatisfactory and results have not met expectations. A solid legislative basis for long-term water management is not enough, it also needs to be implemented and applied correctly. If specific gaps remain, they might be filled by new legislation. It seems that a significant number of EU water bodies will not reach ‘good status’ by 2015, due to both longstanding and emerging challenges. The implementation of current legislation, as well as a proper sanctioning mechanism, should therefore be put high on our agenda.
Even though the WFD has helped establish fundamental information on water management, a considerable lack of data on water availability persists. We can only manage our waters sustainably if we have the necessary data. It is paramount to bridge this gap in order find out exactly how much water flows in and out of our river basins and how much of it is abstracted by each sector. Simultaneously, new key indicators need to be developed. They should be used to set measurable targets, in particular for water efficiency.
Sadly, water is often wasted in the EU. Most sectors dealing with water – industry, agriculture, energy, public water supply – lack efficiency measures that could easily be put in place. With the help of simple instruments, like metering, water could be handled a lot more efficiently. In particular, in regions subject to water stress, re-use of water for irrigation purposes and in households could be an important means to achieve water security. In addition, innovative technology and the exchange of best practice models would foster water efficiency. Hence, the blueprint needs to set clear targets for efficient and sustainable water use.
These aspects will prove vital for the success of the next chapter in European water legislation. However, many more details need to be considered when devising strategies for water management. We need to encourage water re-use and recycling. Particularly in regions subject to water stress, the re-use of water for irrigation purposes and in households constitutes an important instrument to achieve water security. The blueprint should explicitly address this topic. Furthermore, we must foster research and innovation. Innovation is a source of productivity and ensures progress. Both the commission and the member states should ensure sufficient funding available to research projects for innovative technologies, such as rainwater harvesting systems, metering technologies, water-saving technologies. Also, our legislation needs to be adapted to regional needs, since water resources are scarce in some regions, but abundant in others. Last, but not least, we need to promote the integration of water policies into other relevant policies, such as agriculture, energy or regional policy. Water is a vital component of so many different products. Therefore, we need to ensure that our current and future legislation is checked for its compliance with our water standards.
Evidently, we have already come a long way and the blueprint will just be the next logical step towards an integrated, multi-level approach to water policy we need in order to fulfil the manifold economic, environmental and social demands. Water needs to be managed sustainably in order to cater, not only to our needs, but also to those of the following generations. In this spirit, I look forward to the pending release of the blueprint.
Richard Seeber is chair of parliament's water intergroup and rapporteur on the implementation of EU water legislation, ahead of a necessary overall approach to European water challenges