2023 was a year full of uncertainties. Uncertainties in terms of geopolitical stability with major military incidents taking place at the gates of Europe, in terms of weather and climate instability with floods and climate-related disasters, such as the Amazon facing its worst drought ever, and in terms of an economy flirting with a looming recession. Amidst such challenges, it is crucial to remind ourselves that it’s during these uncertain times that people work together and make collective decisions that can alter our resilience for the challenges faced.
This is what we have been doing in the water sector throughout the year, with Water Europe and our community undertaking a series of collective actions for building a Water-Smart Society. 2023 started with our preparations and participation in the UN2023 Water Conference, the first in 47 years, and the launch of our updated WE Vision for a Water-Smart Society. We continued the path by the launch of the call for an EU Blue Deal, and concluded with our active engagement in COP28 where we positioned water at the centre of the discussions for climate change.
Europe is taking the lead in a green transition towards a sustainable society. We need to recognize water as a key element in the green transition – there is no green without blue. All signals point out that this generation has the opportunity and the duty to adopt a different way of living. This is a legacy we should actively pursue, and now, there are realms of opportunities. With the European elections coming up, with the new Water Resilience Initiative of the European Commission, and with a water conference already being arranged by Belgium taking over the Presidency of the EU Council, we have the tools in our hands to shape the next steps that will lead to a Water-Smart Society.
In the end, as water professionals, our daily efforts in laying the foundation for a Water-Smart Society, contribute to more peace and harmony in our communities and society, as a whole. That’s why I do think of water professionals as peace makers. Let’s uphold this commitment in 2024, as well. I look forward to collaborating with you in the next year, and in the meantime, I am sending you my best wishes for a peaceful Christmas period, and a Happy New Year!Read More
Interview with Jon Rathjen, Water Europe Board Member & Deputy Director Water Policy, Scottish Government
You are a Water Europe board member of college C ‘Utilities’- Could you tell us what drives you personally to have this role at Water Europe? What do you want to achieve?
I work for the Scottish Government and my role focuses on water policy but very much in the context of climate change and the transition to renewable energy. I act on behalf of Scottish Ministers as the owner and financier of Scottish Water, the publicly owned water and waste water service provider for all of Scotland. Scottish Water has developed over recent years into a high performing utility but to keep it there, it’s essential to both share Scotland’s lessons learnt but also to learn from others. Being a board member at Water Europe gives me the platform to raise issues, discuss challenges and seek and offer solutions. Better water governance and adopting cutting edge techniques helps us all to deliver better customer service, protect the environment and adapt to climate change.
Representing the utilities at Water Europe, which ones do you consider the key challenges and the most burning needs of this college and how do you contribute to addressing these in the context of Water Europe?
For utilities, the big challenge is adapting to climate change. How do we mitigate climate change by making our operations more energy efficient, using fewer resources, becoming more circular in our processes? Ho do we adapt by using less water when scarcity strikes, or managing surface water better at times of excess rainfall. Water Europe members have the lived experience from a wide range of geographies and climates and working together we can support each other to find solutions that fit our own places and that suit our own populations. Celebrating each others’ successes and offer support through challenges.
Utilities are traditionally regarded as the problem owners & the ones in need of innovative solutions. How can utilities become more ambitious in adopting existing innovations & seizing the new opportunities presented?
Utilities are problem owners but in equal measure they are problem solvers sometimes on their own but more often through partnerships. Making the right partnerships is a space Water Europe occupies really well, bringing people together, building confidence in new innovations to get them into active use more quickly. It is often the fear of the unknown, low risk appetite or fear of failure that makes utilities seem slow at adopting new innovations, Water Europe has a role to play in overcoming that caution.
Water Europe aims to build a Water-Smart Society. From your point of view, which actions shall we put forward to make this happen and how could utilities contribute to that?
Water Europe is at the forefront of the conversation about building a Water Smart Society. It publishes thought leadership works like “The Value of Water” and the “Manifesto” and takes part in and hosts events exploring water smart issues. Bringing the topic to life, in simple to understand terms, is essential. Utilities can be large scale exemplars of water smartness, they are an integral part of society with the power to impact everyone’s life. Utilities can build partnership and collaborations, run information campaigns and initiate discussions on water smart issues. Utilities can exemplify the changes that we need to see across all parts of society, that’s why college C is a vital part of the Water Europe family.Read More
In light of a widening gap between water supply and demand, we cannot continue to use water the way we use it today. Climate change will increase both shortage and demand of water, which is why we risk overconsuming this precious resource.
With households representing 10% of the water consumption in Europe, we must act on their demand. To improve domestic water efficiency, we need to enable pragmatic solutions and kick start structural changes by focussing policymaking on this widely untapped potential. An exchange of highly consumptive taps and showers with water-saving technologies can reduce water consumption in households by 25% alone, without compromising comfort or requiring high investments.
While technological solutions are readily available, the bottleneck lies in awareness and incentives to unlock the full potential of water efficiency. Consumers awareness of water consumption and potential efficiency gains must be strengthened by anchoring domestic water efficiency in water, building and consumer policies across Europe. Recognising the contribution of water efficiency in homes as a major contributor to the sustainability of buildings would also enable to promote the issue to all actors in the construction sector.
Truly achieving our goal of a water-efficient building stock requires a more structural approach. Only 10% of water in households is used for drinking and eating. Against the background of the climate crisis fuelling already existing seasonal and regional water stress in Europe, we must ask ourselves whether we really need to flush our toilets, water our gardens or even shower with the highest quality of drinking water. This realization opens the door to a more efficient utilisation of the remaining 90% through innovative water reuse technologies. We need to reassess which type and quality of water is required for which purpose in a domestic environment to ensure water (re-)use in our homes.
Policy makers are able to act now and create incentives for planning buildings that are adaptable to the challenges posed by climate change, and water scarcity. Building and consumer policies must take into account installations for water reuse. Water efficiency in households must be addressed by a transversal approach and strong political support. An EU Blue Deal would undoubtedly mark a significant stride in the right direction.
 Statistics for Germany: 4% for drinking, eating and cooking + 6% for washing dishes Wassernutzung privater Haushalte | UmweltbundesamtRead More
The ZeroPollution4Water is an initiative originated from the coalition of different projects: ToDrinQ, intoDBP, NINFA, Mar2protect, UPWATER, H2OforAll and SafeCREW. working on preserving groundwater and ensuring high quality drinking water. Discover more about the Cluster here.Read More
Today, 29 of November 2023, the Council and Parliament reached an agreement on the revision of the Directive on Industrial Emissions (IED) and the regulation on the establishment of an Industrial Emissions Portal (IEP). It needs now to be adopted by a vote in the two institutions.
Water Europe considers that water is a competitive asset for our economy to strengthen our strategic autonomy and improve our environmental legacy for the future generations.
The new directives includes:
– Binding Environmental Performance Limit Values (EPLVs) ranges for all energy resources, except for water, for which competent authorities must set binding targets. EPLVs will be indicative for emerging techniques.
– Extended scope of the directive particularly to mining activities.
– Strengthening the potential penalties and the possibility for people to claim compensation where damage to their health has occurred as a result of a violation of the national rules transposing the directive.
– Review and assessment of the implementation of the directive will be in 2028 and every 5 years ; taking into account the emerging techniques and the need for further pollution prevention measures or EU-wide minimum emission limit requirements.
Water Europe (WE) welcomes this agreement as it strengthens the water-related provisions of the directive and includes a compensation right for citizens. WE particularly supported in its position a mandatory system assessment for water usage to control the possibilities for cost-effective water savings, with the adaptation to the local situation. This provision will contribute to raise awareness about water risks and their financial impact on industry while initiating a trend towards a water-smart industry.
You can learn more about Water Europe position at this link or consult our:Read More
Building on the momentum created at the UN Water Conference 2023, Water Europe is now ready to actively engage in the upcoming UN Climate Summit COP28. Scheduled to take place between the 30th of November and 12th of December in Dubai, COP28 presents a pivotal opportunity for advancing the EU water agenda.
The COP is an international momentum for environmental policy, including water with a dedicated day on the 10th December. Major European Institutions are already considering the pressing challenges to provide coherence and new regulatory tools:
– The European Council called in two resolutions in 2021 and 2023 highlighting the “strategic importance of water and the need to act”.
– In October 2023, The European Economic and Social Committee stressed that “the current EU policy framework is not fit for purpose” and call in its EU Blue Deal for “a radical effort to anticipate needs, to preserve water resources and adequately manage related challenges through a comprehensive and coordinated roadmap, setting ambitious targets and actions linked to agreed milestones”.
– The European Parliament stressed for 2 consecutive years in its resolutions for the COP27 and COP28 the importance to achieve a Water-Smart Society in Europe to reach the objectives of the climate agenda.
Water Europe will be there together with many of its members, committed to spreading our vision for a Water-Smart Society and sharing the results of our research and innovation projects. Explore our activities!
05 December – Water for Climate Pavilion
Water Europe is the curator together with the Government of Rio de Janeiro and the UN-Habitat GWOPA of the Water for Climate Pavilion programme on Locally-Led Adaptation. READ MORE
09.30 – 11.00 – Finance, data, and capacity building: Which accelerator frameworks to build Water-Smart cities?
11.30 – 12.00 – Ted Talk style presentation by Gideon Bromberg, Director, Ecopeace Middle East
14.00 – 15.30 – Local Adaptation: Water policies and good practices in urban areas
15.30 – 16.15 – UN 2023 Water action agenda: a Water-Smart journey to COP28
16.30 – 17.30 – Policy implications of multi-level governance approach for water adaption in cities
05 December – WE Workshop on Industry & Water Efficiency, 10.30-12.00, Water for Climate Pavilion
This workshop will assess the opportunity from global industrial actors to build a water-smart strategy and support industrial investment in that sense. It also aims to exchange good practices and better connect solutions providers with challenge owners. REGISTER HERE.
This fifth ARSINOE seminar, titled “Water-Smart Cities: Navigating Climate-Resilient Sustainable Urbanization in the Digital Age”, will be chaired by the Water Europe VLT Water-Smart Cities, led by Arnout Reulens (city of Mechelen). It will feature an eminent panel of experts from the sister projects projects ARSINOE, TRANSFORMAR, IMPETUS and REGILIENCE, who will actively participate and provide valuable insights drawn from their extensive experience and the ambitious goals of these projects
The Water Europe VLT Water-Smart Cities plays a pivotal role in shaping the event’s focus on urban end-user needs, circular economy principles, and the realization of a Water-Smart Society. This VLT in Water Europe sets visionary benchmarks and fosters collaboration among stakeholders, creating a foundation for innovation, experimentation, and the transformation of urban environments into smart, sustainable, and resilient Water-Oriented Living Labs.
The event serves as a stand to further the aims of ARSINOE and its sister projects, focusing on the development of climate-resilient regions and the integration of systemic solutions for sustainable, smart, and climate-adaptive urban environments for a Water-Smart Society.Read More
On the 26th of October, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) called on the European Commission to address water as a priority at European scale, emphasizing the need for a common EU approach to water. Water Europe welcomes the EESC’s call for an EU Blue Deal and has already published specific recommendations that pave the way towards a Water-Smart Strategy.
‘The EU Blue Deal needs to be filled with life by a Water-Smart Society- we will all have to contribute to it’ said Paul Rübig, member of the EESC during the conference. With this in mind, it is now more important than ever to ask ourselves: What does the Water-Smart Society mean and what is the way forward to realise it? You can read here Water Europe’s recommendations on the EU Blue Deal.
To learn more about our vision, watch the new video on YouTube.Read More
Water Projects Europe at ECOMONDO: Clusters, synergies and interface with market players and problem owners
A Water Projects Europe workshop will take place during the ECOMONDO event on the 7th of November. Zero pollution and circular economy should be achieved within climate change challenges and nexus optimization, with support of digital solutions. Synergized European innovation actions can inspire both scale-up and replication of eco-innovative solutions together with systemic change.
The workshop will bring together partners of European projects with industries, public and private stakeholders that are implementing large innovations. A specific focus on Balkan and Mediterranean areas will be prioritized. George Arampatzis and Luca Montorsi will speak respectively for AquaSPICE and iWAYS projects. To book your place, click here.Read More
Last week the European Parliament voted for a water-smart urban wastewater management in Europe.
Similarly to the European Commission’s proposal, the Parliament supports energy neutrality target by 2040, and includes also consideration of methane and nitrous oxide emissions reduction. In particular, the Parliament encourages a better integration of the water-energy nexus to achieve a Water-Smart Society in Europe in line with the energy efficiency directive.
“At the heart of this water-energy nexus is the rapidly growing realisation that climate and water systems are linked, and changes in one system induce important, non-linear changes in the other one. Climate neutrality goals and attention to water resources shall then be developed in a mutually reinforcing way by achieving a Water Smart Society. It means that the value of water is recognised and realised, all available water sources are managed so that water scarcity and pollution are avoided; the water system is resilient against the impact of demographic changes, droughts and floods, and all relevant stakeholders are engaged to guarantee sustainable water governance, while water and resource loops are largely closed to foster a circular economy.” (Recital 19a)
Moreover, the position also envisions the potential innovative solutions in the coming years as regards to digital tools as well as keeping open the possibility for innovation for sludge management. Paired with a better integration of the circular economy opportunities, this directive will strengthen water reuse opportunities and the exploitation of the value in wastewater and sewage sludge.
Despite some improvement in terms of wastewater surveillance with the mention of E-Coli or legionella, the European Parliament’s position dilutes the polluter-pays-principle in the creation of the EPR scheme by the possibility to use up to 20% of national financing for the quaternary treatment for micropollutants. We agree – as mentioned in a joint letter – with the Vice Commissioner Suica that industrial actors shall pay their fair part for wastewater treatment : “ On extended producer responsibility I remain convinced that the industry should cover the full cost of the additional treatment needed to treat the residues of their products” (Suica, European Parliament, 2023).
Lastly, Water Europe welcomes the position of the European Parliament for more transparency. Lastly, Water Europe welcomes the position of the European Parliament for more transparency and easy access, particularly through digital channels, regarding the monitoring and treatment of urban wastewater. This may include measures like reporting compliance rates as a percentage.