The EU Water Framework Directive: creating sustainability

The EU Water Framework Directive: creating sustainability

Johannes Lohaus, secretary general of the European Water Association, explores the work of EWA in ensuring a sustainable future for the water sector through legislation, regulation, recognition and collaboration throughout the EU.

The first recital in the EU Water Framework Directive is the guiding principle of all the activities executed by the European Water Association (EWA): “Water is not a commercial product like any other but, rather, a heritage which must be protected, defended and treated as such”. EWA is a pan-European, non-governmental, non-profit-making, technical and scientific organisation. Full members are national water associations representing the professionals in their country and supporting companies and institutions in the water sector.

Today, EWA has members from more than 25 European countries. EWA is the platform and turntable for discussion, exchange and transfer of information and knowhow in the European water landscape on a technical and scientific level, not only between the national member associations and corporate members, but also for distribution of information between the EU and members.

The main fields of actions are organising conferences and seminars, as well as contributing to the development of the European water legislation. In this connection, the conferences and seminars always reflect the hot topics of the latest technical discussion, and their results are the basis for the input from EWA to European institutions.

A manifesto for European water

The first contribution worth mentioning is the EWA Water Manifesto. With the Water Manifesto, EWA draws attention to important water issues in Europe and makes proposals for their resolution through sustainable management and use of water resources, in line with the EU Water Framework Directive. EWA calls upon society actors, as well as all relevant stakeholders, to strive for sustainable and responsible use of water.

EU Water Framework Directive

EWA issues position papers covering specific water topics. Currently, the EWA is vigorously involved in the ongoing review of the EU Water Framework Directive and the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive. The EWA has been advocating the objectives of the Water Framework Directive since the initial set up of the directive.

Alongside the implementation stages, the EWA has dedicated its EWA Annual Brussels Conferences to the EU Water Framework Directive and topics related to this. While the EU Water Framework Directive is being reviewed, EWA emphasises the need for the European Commission to act fast and ensure clarity on the strategy beyond 2027. All stakeholders need planning security and, ideally, before the next management and measurement plans are set.

Experience has shown that it will be impossible to achieve a good ecological status comprehensively by 2027. However, developments in the European water sector have shown considerable improvements in recent years. This fact has not been mentioned very favourably, if at all, in the EU Water Framework Directive. Thus, for motivational reasons, the interim results need to be projected in a more positive way than in the past. This is a task to which the EWA contributes.

The Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive

Closely tied to the EU Water Framework Directive is the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive. The 9th report by the European Commission, released in December 2017, shows that this sector has progressed considerably over the last 25 years. However, the report reveals that in the EU alone, 10 million citizens are living without adequate sanitation, which is one of the main requirements set for Goal 6 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Furthermore, the report shows a significant gap between the new and the old member states in the field of both sewer construction as well as on the construction of wastewater treatment plants.

The difference is very prominent in advanced wastewater treatment, where new member states need to catch up in order to meet the necessary requirements. The latest report on the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive does not include information on “Less sensitive areas”, according to Article 6 of the directive. EWA is asking whether these areas will be valid in the future. It makes no sense to discuss new requirements, e.g. on micro-pollutants, as long as there are large gaps in fulfilling the actual requirements across Europe. Meanwhile, less sensitive areas are still in line with the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive.

Addressing the environmental challenges of today

Besides having difficulties to implement the legal requirements in Europe, a wide variety of practical problems are yet to be solved. Heavy rain fall and flooding in cities occur more frequently, due to climate change. Sadly, there is no magic formula on how to react to these negative effects; single operators cannot make decisions on preventive measures without consulting other parties. Hence, there is a strong demand for co-operation, especially within the departments of urban planning and wastewater management.

The EWA is highlighting this issue on a regular basis, most recently at the 6th Joint Conference, focusing on the “Resilience of the Water Sector”. The EWA organised this event alongside the Japan Sewage Works Association (JSWA) and the Water Environment Federation (WEF) during IFAT 2018, held in Munich, Germany. This event raised the topic of resilience in the water sector and discussed both the lessons learned and new developments in Europe, Japan and the USA. The proceedings from this event can be downloaded on the EWA website.

The Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive requires the construction of sewer systems but lacks any requirement on the quality of these systems. All countries in Europe are facing the problem of ageing infrastructure; a frequent inspection of existing sewers every 10 to 15 years, based on EN 13508-2, helps to develop sustainable strategies to retain the value of systems. However, there is a strong demand for research and development in this field.

A call for stronger infrastructure and regulation

When new infrastructure is constructed, various alternatives should always be taken into consideration. The assessment of alternative solutions should not be based on investment costs only, but lifecycle costs must also be examined carefully. EWA has been active in this topic and has set up a working group especially for this topic.

The methods of the Dynamic Costs Calculation, jointly developed by EWA members, have proven to be a real asset in this matter. When planning new infrastructure, long-term installation costs must be considered. Due to this, it is of utmost economic importance to have a clear view on long-term implications and the costs of individual measures at an early stage of the process. Especially when constructing new sewer systems, which are normally designed with a lifetime span of 50 to 100 years, it is imperative to consider several alternatives and compare all costs incurred, prior to constructing such facilities.

Collaborating for the future of European water

Representatives from several universities and research institutions are joined together in the EWA network. Hence, EWA is in the unique position to bring together research groups on the one hand and spread current research results within its network on the other. The EWA would like to strengthen its network by supporting more academic activities.

Currently, EWA is supporting the project, Policies, Innovation And Networks for enhancing Opportunities for China Europe Water Cooperation (PIANO). The task of EWA is to spread the results evolving from this project by presenting the findings at its events and conferences. An example of this was a European-Chinese Workshop which was held at the trade fair IE expo in Shanghai, China.

Equipping water’s workforce

What is the purpose of the newest academic findings and the most advanced water treatment plants when the workers at these plants are not sufficiently qualified to do their daily job? Along with the newest technology on how to clean wastewater, an equally important matter for treatment plants is to ensure the training of its operating staff. When the list of progress and shortcomings of water protection is presented, the matter of ensuring that personnel are qualified has been neglected somewhat in the water sector.

As the administration of wastewater treatment plants has become highly automated, it is of utmost importance to recruit well-educated and skilled workers; the highly trained personnel need to understand the complexity of how to run both a sewer and water treatment plant. Future workforces at treatment plants are expected to demonstrate various skills when hired. The operation of the facility must be ensured, while technical faults and abrasions must be discovered at an early stage in order to prevent long-term damages and high energy consumption. The EWA has taken on this topic and is currently leading a working group on the “European Qualification Framework”, which deals with the topic of European vocational training and qualification standards in the European water sector, where participants share relevant experiences from their native countries.

The Green Capital of Europe: recognising sustainability

Subsequently, I would like to highlight the EWA’s activities in regard to the Green Capital of Europe. Since 2010, the European Commission has awarded one European city the title of the “Green Capital of Europe”. As of 2016, the EWA, together with its national member in the awarded country, have organised an event on the topic of water in the respective environmental capital. This year, the city of Nijmegen in the Netherlands received the award and the event, “Smart Water Cities”, will be held between 20-21 September in 2018’s Green Capital of Europe, Nijmegen.

I welcome experts and water professionals to explore and support the work and activities of the EWA. One of the products we offer for free, the quarterly EWA newsletter, informs you of the newest developments in Brussels, Belgium, and within EWA. Please contact the secretariat to learn more about the association and on how to become a member of the EWA.

Johannes Lohaus DE
Secretary General
European Water Association


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here