Guest editorial by Astrid Schomaker – Director for Global Sustainable Development, DG ENV, EU Commission
2022 has been a difficult year. The water sector has certainly seen more than its fair share of challenges, from severe droughts in Europe and Africa, devastating floods in Pakistan, to Russia’s targeting of civilian water infrastructure as part of its war on Ukraine. Nevertheless, it is possible to be optimistic about the year ahead and the opportunities it offers.
The Russian war of aggression has accelerated our energy transition. The REPowerEU Plan foresees the largest roll-out of renewable energy ever. And just like in the EU, other countries are deploying renewables around the globe. This constitutes an unprecedented opportunity. What we need to make sure now is that we have a water-positive pathway for the energy transition, one that enables us to make the right investments in renewable energy technologies that are compatible with sustainable water uses.
Last November, the world convened at climate COP27 in Egypt, a country not a stranger to water management challenges. Never before has water been so prominent at a climate conference. The worsening impacts of climate change and interlinked crises call for us to better anticipate, prepare, respond and recover by making water resilience and water solidarity two new policy paradigms for our action in the EU and beyond our borders. Supplying our planet’s 8 billion citizens with sustainable energy, ensuring their food security, and enabling healthy and peaceful lives – none of these basic aspirations can be achieved if water availability and water quality are left out of the equation. Our policies can only be effective if they look at the issues together and if policymakers work in close cooperation with stakeholders and experts from all over the world.
Lastly, the year ahead will present a unique opportunity to step up such cooperation, learn from each other’s approaches internationally and kick start a global movement for water resilience. For the first time in 45 years, the international community is gathering at the UN 2023 Water Conference on 22-24 March, in New York. This will be an opportunity for Member States, private sector and civil society to commit to actions, and showcase innovations in water technology and governance to achieve sustainable water management. Those of us who are fastest in making the transition to a circular and resource-efficient economy will benefit from a first-mover advantage internationally. But this is not just an opportunity, there is a moral obligation to scale up ambition: globally, we need to quadruple investments to meet Sustainable Development Goal 6 on access to water and sanitation, and to strengthen the water-dimension of all goals. I therefore encourage you to rally to the cause and make the UN 2023 Water Conference the watershed moment the world urgently needs.Read More
Joint Statement on the Industrial Emission Directive
Water Europe, together with CDP released a joint declaration calling on the European Parliament and the Member States to help provide consistent water information that we urgently need to identify, prevent, and tackle increasing water-related challenges driven by climate change.
The legislative proposal of the European Commission included some new provisions for better consideration about water efficiency assessment. These elements are key according to CDP Europe and Water Europe in order to produce data as regards water consumption by industrial activities because it will:
💧 bring a better picture of water productivity at the plant level by providing more certainty for industries and investments;
💧 ensure better recognition of the value of water and contribute to achieving a Water-Smart Society;
💧 provide a stimulus for R&D to tackle water pollution and scarcity;
💧 improve competitiveness and performance by reducing water risks for companies.
You can read the full declaration here.Read More
Water Europe at COP27
Held from the 6th to the 18th of November, the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP27 took place in the Egyptian beach resort of Sharm El-Sheikh. Here, government negotiators, local authorities, businesses and civil society came together to discuss global climate actions.
Over this period, Water Europe Ambassadors took part in several COP27 events related to the impact of the UN Conference on water and energy transition.
On Wednesday 16th, Hans Goossens, Water Europe President, offered his contribution during the European panel discussion on “European Priorities for Future-Proof Water Services” held as part of the “Water and Climate” pavilion highlighting the importance of COP27 to the water sector. Hans stressed out the important role of water with respect to climate change mitigation but also climate change adaptation. Alexis De Kerchove, Water Europe board member of college A moderated the session that enabled speakers to share experiences to accelerate the implementation of knowledge into real solutions to address Net Zero Greenhouse gas emissions, reduce water losses, eliminate sewer overflows and benefit from the circular economy in water and wastewater management.
On the same day, Francesco Fatone, from the Water Europe Vision leadership Team ‘Circular Water’ contributed to the COP27 session, co-organised by ECOMONDO and Key Energy titled “Management and valorisation of Waste and Waters and Environmental Regeneration: the role played by Italy in the Mediterranean area” to highlight the Italian role in the green and energy transition. To view the full session, please click here
Monitoring of nitrogen in water in the EU
The new study ‘Monitoring of nitrogen in water in the EU: Legal framework, effects of nitrate, design principles, effectiveness and future developments‘ was commissioned by the European Parliament Committee on Petitions and prepared by the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment experts.
Over the last decades, emissions of nutrients and pesticides have proved to be a major source of pollution for both drinking water resources and (aquatic) ecosystems in Europe. Agriculture is a major emission source of nutrients and pesticides, along with other sources like emissions of human and industrial waste water effluent.
This study focuses on nutrient emissions by agriculture, giving an overview of the legal and environmental context in which nitrate emissions to water are measured in the different Member States of the EU, and how the European Commission makes sure that monitoring systems and their results are comparable throughout the EU.Read More
Digitalisation in water sector – new Policy Brief released
The Publication Office of the Europe Union has published the new policy brief ‘Digitalisation in the water sector recommendations for policy developments at EU Level‘ to provide an overview of current gaps in the EU legislative framework that hinder the realization of the benefits of digitalisation in the water sector and offers concrete recommendations on how to overcome them.
It builds on the findings of five Horizon 2020 projects that address different aspects of digitalisation in the water sector and jointly form the DigitalWater2020 (DW2020) synergy group: digital-water.city, ScoreWater, Fiware4Water, NAIADES and aqua3s. All five projects are the active members of the ICT4Water cluster.
In a Water-Smart Society, digital transformation and digital services contribute to immersing the water sector inside the data economy paradigm. Read more about the topic in the recently released policy paper ‘Digitalisation in the water sector recommendations for policy developments at EU Level.
You can download and read the full policy brief here.Read More
5 Takeaways from the Water Scarcity seminars
Over the last months, Water Europe has co-organised five Water Scarcity seminars series with the Body of Knowledge (BoK) of the EIT Water Scarcity Community, under the aegis of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT).
Since 2020, the BoK brings together water experts to openly share knowledge, experiences and opportunities. The seminars touched a variety of aspects to tackle water scarcity: governance and smart tools, circular economy solutions, understanding water scarcity in Southern Europe.
In case you have missed some of the seminars, you can watch them all here.Read More
Water Management turns green by blending blue, green, grey and smart communities
Water management is turning green. Nature-based solutions are being implemented more and more frequently to create a climate-resilient, eco-friendly, and pleasant environment. While climate change is creating extra pressure on the system, the biodiversity decline must stop. Meanwhile, our (grey) water infrastructure, with its networks, pumps, and facilities, is growing older and becoming more fragile. Interventions are urgently needed and provide a window of opportunity to incorporate greener options. Grey is often seen as outdated. Replacement by green solutions is preferred. They look much nicer, and they are visible, unlike most of the grey water infra. By now, we do have a wide experience in green infra construction, maintenance, and operation. They are appreciated by the public; most political decision-makers like that. So why invest in grey infra if there is a more desired alternative?
But are the green solutions better than the grey ones? In a number of ways, they certainly are. They provide lots of benefits in the struggle against floods and droughts, many have a positive effect on water quality and biodiversity, provide social, health, and economic benefits, create added value to the landscape and properties, and so on. But it is hard to compete with grey infra if it comes to their performance, reliability, and space demand. Of course, we see significant differences in the performance of different facilities. Lower performance and reliability are often overcome by installing trains of different solutions but that comes with a price.
Another peculiarity in the shift from grey to green solutions seems to be the expertise field that is driving each of these worlds. The world of green solutions seems to be driven mostly by landscape architects and urban planners, ecologists and designers. They design solutions aiming at maximizing the social, ecological, and economic benefits, often in dialogue with the public. They consider cultural and historical values in their designs, visualize their designs in ways that sell, and realize visible and attractive green water infrastructure.
Grey water management solutions – for water supply, the drainage of wastewater and stormwater and fluvial and coastal flood defense – are developed by civil engineers and water technologists. They develop highly cost-efficient solutions for water utilities, drainage, flood protection and wastewater treatment, with facilities, mostly located subsurface or located far outside the city- boundaries, protected by big fences so that no one can disrupt their performance – and no one knows what is happening there nor understands how the systems work and why these are made the way they are. But they are doing a great job at all times, supplying perfect drinking water, draining wastewater and stormwater, and treating that to a quality that is acceptable to be reintroduced in the ‘natural’ water cycle.
In fact, we see two separate communities, a green one, and a grey one, each with its own culture, language, approaches, objectives, etc. They are hardly interacting, if not in competition for the support of society.
Another strange phenomenon – in the green community even more than in the grey – is the low level of ICT that is used. While each car engine nowadays has at least 50 sensors and controllers to optimize performance, this control practice has hardly entered water management, Yes, we know it is growing, but not comparable to other sectors. Smart control, including monitoring, can help water management systems to perform better. It is a challenge for all of us to make better use of today’s monitoring and control possibilities and develop new opportunities. To that end, the ICT-community is to be connected to the grey and green one.
Green-Grey solutions: the way forward
By blending the expertise of the three communities, green-grey solutions could be developed.
Green solutions can be integrated with grey and smart ones to add co-benefits, like social, environmental, and economic ecosystem services. And introducing more monitoring and control systems will allow us to optimize their performance.
The first step is to make the experts from the three worlds cooperate. And although there seems to be an advantage for all in co-creating better solutions, reality shows that the three communities are very much apart.
We recently explored potential reasons for this by interviewing a number of representatives of the water sector, including solution providers, their suppliers, academia, and their clients and end users. To our surprise, all these groups have barriers preventing the required symbiosis. The clients have problems becoming launching customers for new solutions due to the risk of failure and/or since permits cannot be obtained. The solution providers have no reason to invest in the development because their clients don’t ask for it, and consequently, the same holds for their suppliers. And the researchers and knowledge providers are organized in strong silos, each with its funding streams, journals, and conferences, so a driver for transdisciplinary cooperation is missing. Moreover, a public driver that would stimulate the development of such hybrid green-grey-smart solutions is missing; the public is not aware of the systems in place, let alone of their problems and the possibilities for developing better alternatives.
Triggers are needed to start a co-creation process, overcome the hurdles of misunderstanding, test ideas in the lab and in practice, and help clients take the risk of implementing an innovative solution and improving it on the go.
These triggers could be financial but also strategic – to obtain a competitive advantage or to ‘buy in’ public support –, (re)organizational or regulatory. It was proposed to introduce a Technological Subsidiarity Principle in water policy and politics: “Only if nature-based solutions cannot provide sufficient and continuous reliability of the required water system services, smart and/or grey solutions can be added to – and preferably integrated with – the green ones, to provide a sufficient water quantity and quality for all the functions that are to be sustained.” This principle requires the integration of green, grey, and smart technologies to realize continuity in performance and service level for all functions that depend on the availability of sufficient water of sufficient quality.
The realization of this principle is a paradigm shift for all the communities mentioned earlier. It requires fundamental changes in the policies of governments, the regulatory framework, and the organization and financing of the water supply, treatment, and system management. It will require new capacities and skills of the people developing, planning, designing, constructing, operating, and maintaining such green-grey solutions. Not an easy job to do, but worth trying from the perspective of circularity and impact reduction.
The existing organization of the water sector and all related aspects, such as the regulatory framework and the financing, is built around the solutions we started implementing more than a century ago! For good reasons, our grandparents have constructed monofunctional water facilities and networks. But society has changed. Land use has intensified; cities have densified; biodiversity is declining rapidly; and the water infrastructure is aging. New demands are emerging, e.g. from the perspective of sustainability, the need for circularity, and the WEF nexus. And new technologies have emerged in water and green technology, ICT, materials, and so on. It is high time to start thinking about the ‘the new green-grey-smart water infrastructure and what is needed to get there.
Check out the latest publication ‘Opportunities for Hybrid Grey Green Infrastructure in Water Management: Challenges and Ways Forward’.Read More
Hubs4Circularity website is now live
The Hubs4Circularity website is now live! Learn how this new community of practice will support European industries, regions and cities in becoming more circular. Visit the official website here.
Funded by the European Commission under the Horizon EU programme, the Hubs4Circularity community of practice will connect process industries, regional administrations, technology providers and educators to jointly progress towards circular and sustainable industrial production.
Sign up to the Hubs4Circularity platform to:
📃 Get access to up-to-date resources to support your carbon reduction goals;
🤝 Interact with peers and innovators and work together to tackle Circular Economy challenges;
📢 Discover events, opportunities and funding for your R&D and innovation projects.Read More
The reduction of water pollutants: a crucial part for health and environment
The European Commission presented on 26 October its “Zero Pollution Package”. Besides the ambitious proposal for a new Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive (UWWTD), the Commission also proposes to update the lists of surface water and groundwater pollutants and a revision of EU ambient air quality legislation.
As the executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal, Frans Timmermans, said: “Our health depends on our environment. An unhealthy environment has direct and costly consequences for our health. […] The longer we wait to reduce this pollution, the higher the costs to society. By 2050, we want our environment to be free of harmful pollutants. That means we need to step up action today. Our proposals to further reduce water and air pollution are a crucial piece of that puzzle.”
The updated list of surface water and groundwater pollutants includes a stricter control of pollutants. 25 substances hazardous for the environment and human health were added, covering PFAS, several pesticides (e.g. glyphosate), Bisphenol A as well as pharmaceuticals and antibiotics. Moreover, the Commission proposes mandatory downstream river basin warnings after incidents, an improvement regarding monitoring and reporting and the possibility of easier updates to keep it updated with future studies.
If you would like to find out more, take a look at the NextGen policy brief on the UWWTD. The project aims to boost sustainability and bring new market dynamics throughout the water cycle.
You can also check out the factsheet on the Review of the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive and factsheet on Surface Water and Groundwater Pollutants.Read More
Interview with Xavier Litrico, WE Board Member of college A ‘Multinational Corporations’
You are a Water Europe board member of college A ‘Multinational Corporations’- Could you tell us what drives you personally to have this role at Water Europe? What do you want to achieve?
SUEZ is a founding member of Water Europe, and as such is deeply engaged in promoting innovations in water to the European level. As Chief Science & Technology Officer of SUEZ, it is part of my job to connect with leading water actors at European level, and that’s what you find in the Water Europe board! For me, it is important to promote research and innovation as key development tools for the water industry, and I feel that being part of Water Europe board is a good place for that.
SUEZ has gone through an important transition over the last year. How would you describe the mission of the new SUEZ and why do you consider it important to be part of Water Europe?
Indeed, last year was an important transition for SUEZ. Our research, innovation, and construction capacities remain unchanged. We now have new shareholders (Meridiam, GIP and the Caisse des Dépôts Group), a new President and CEO, Sabrina Soussan, and a new strategy, which focuses on our core businesses in water and waste, and strengthens innovation and research, including a 50% increase in R&I investment by 2027.
SUEZ is founding member of Water Europe, and needs to keep its position within the board, as it is an important multinational corporation in the water business, in Europe but also internationally.
Which ones do you consider the biggest challenges of the European water sector, at the moment, and how do you see us overcoming them?
Recent drought events in Europe this year showed that availability of water, which was assumed as a given until recently, is now at risk. At the same time, an excess of water has caused dramatic consequences in recent years (floods, heavy storms, etc.) Ensuring just and large access to water for everyone is therefore a priority for Europe. And we need to overcome these issues in a context where energy is rare, and inflation high. We therefore need to develop solutions, including technological ones to optimize water and energy uses, but also new business models to ensure that water is financed in order to ensure its economic sustainability while preserving the resource. Concerning wastewater, the European Commission unveiled on the 26th October the revision of the urban wastewater treatment directive. We hope that the level of ambition will be maintained, because it tackles crucial stakes: micropollutants treatment, use of wastewater systems to track viruses, more balanced ways to finance the treatments through the implementation of extender producer responsibility…
Building a water-smart society is our vision. Which actions shall we prioritise to make this happen?
Building a water-smart society is a vision with which SUEZ is perfectly aligned. This includes developing innovation in technology, uses and business models in order to promote the value of water. The actions that should be prioritized:
– Ensure collaboration between public and private entities to develop innovative and largely adopted solutions;
– Test and deploy existing solutions, using territories as labs to promote these solutions (water-oriented living labs);
-Continue to communicate the shared vision of Water Europe to increase its impact on decision makers, and even a larger public.