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Europe looks set to expand wastewater reuse

Europe look sets to expand treated wastewater reuse – the European Commission is progressing with its plans on proposed water reuse legislation.

The Commission has finalised the impact assessment of the proposal for an EU instrument on water reuse.

The proposal will be submitted to the Regular Scrutiny Board of the Commission by the end of this month. The Commission intends to adopt the legal proposal by the end of December 2017 if the Board’s response is positive.

The Commission has also flagged up the fact that the emerging world water reuse market is growing rapidly and is estimated to reach €1 trillion euros by 2020 – and that greater uptake of reuse at the EU level would provide a showcase for EU companies’ technologies and skills in the sector towards potential customers in third countries.

Water reuse is a top priority area in the Strategic Implementation Plan of the European Innovation Partnership on Water. Maximisation of water reuse is also a specific objective in the “Blueprint to safeguard Europe’s water resources”.

Reuse of treated wastewater can provide a reliable water supply which is independent from seasonal drought and weather variability and able to cover peaks of water demand.

EU could increase current annual 1bn m³ use of treated urban wastewater  six-fold

Around 1 billion cubic metres of treated urban wastewater is currently reused annually in Europe, accounting for approximately 2.4% of the treated urban wastewater effluents and less than 0.5% of annual EU freshwater withdrawals.

However, the EC says the the EU potential is much higher, estimated in the order of 6 billion cubic metres – six times the current volume.

Northern Member States like Belgium, Germany and the UK and southern Member States such as Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain already have initiatives in place regarding water reuse for irrigation, industrial uses and aquifer recharge.

Cyprus and Malta already reuse more than 90% and 60% of their wastewater respectively, while Greece, Italy and Spain reuse between 5 and 12% of their effluents, “clearly indicating a huge potential for further uptake”, the EC says.

A number of studies have been supported by the European Commission in recent years to assess the potential of further EU action in this area.

However, although the practice is commonly and successfully used in, for example, Israel, California, Australia, and Singapore the EC says that at present, water reuse encounters numerous barriers in the EU.

Current barriers include inconsistent policy framework, low public acceptance & limited awareness of potential benefits

The lack of a supportive and coherent framework for water reuse, low public acceptance and limited awareness of potential benefits among stakeholders and the general public have been  flagged up as major barriers currently preventing wider water reuse in the EU.

The Commission decided to develop a legislative instrument for water reuse following on from the identification of water reuse as a specific objective in the Blueprint to safeguard Europe’s water resources which offered a concrete and valid alternative supply option to address water scarcity issues.

An initial impact assessment study of the proposal was prepared and published in 2015, followed by a second study in 2016 to refine the initial findings and support the impact assessment of the more detailed policy options for setting minimum quality requirements for water reuse for agricultural irrigation and water recharge.

The impact assessment drew attention to the fact that because water reuse is an emerging worldwide market, a greater uptake of reuse at the EU level would provide a showcase for the relevance of the technologies and skills of EU companies towards potential customers in third countries.

The Inception Impact Assessment on the initiative “Minimum quality requirements for reused water in the EU (new EU legislation)”  which was published in April 2016, sets out in greater detail the background, the policy objectives and options as well as their likely impacts.

Action at EU level would not impose water reuse on Member States who do not want to pursue it.

Further down the line, additional objectives of the initiative would be to increase the recycling of nutrients contained in waste water when appropriate.

“This would contribute to growth and jobs creation in the EU by stimulating the development of innovative technologies and water infrastructure that will provide EU actors a first-mover advantage in this fast growing world market”, the impact assessment says.

Potential role of treated wastewater reuse now “well acknowledged & embedded”at national and international level

According to the Commission, the potential role of treated wastewater reuse as an alternative source of water supply is now “well acknowledged and embedded within international, European and national strategies.”

The EC’s Closing the loop – An EU action plan for the circular economy committed the Commission to develop a series of non-regulatory actions to promote safe and cost-effective water reuse in 2016-2017. It also said the Commission would table a legislative proposal in 2017 on minimum requirements for reused water for irrigation and groundwater recharge.

With regard to water reuse in irrigation, the envisaged option consists of regulation on minimum quality requirements for reused water e.g. risk management plans, treatment standards, treatment process controls, application controls and water quality benchmarks.

The UN Sustainable Development Goal on Water (SDG 6) specifically targets a substantial increase in recycling and safe reuse globally by 2030.

Click here to download the Inception Impact Assessment – Minimum quality requirements for reused water in the EU (new EU legislation)

http://ec.europa.eu/smart-regulation/roadmaps/docs/2017_env_006_water_reuse_instrument_en.pdf

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