The European Commission’s Environment Committee has provisionally approved measures to allow wastewater reuse for irrigation in agriculture.
The legislation, which was designed to address issues of drought and water scarcity, will permit “reclaimed water” – urban wastewater which has undergone reclamation treatment – to be reused for the irrigation of food and non-food crops. The text of the legislation lays out minimum standards for the quality of reclaimed water which may be reused in agriculture; as well as risk management metrics and the responsibilities of operators in the production, storage and distribution of wastewater used in irrigation.
Rapporteur Simona Bonafè said: “We must move towards a circular economy… in the use and re-use of water. We could potentially reuse 6.6 billion m3 of water by 2025, compared to the current 1.1 billion m3 per year. That would require an investment of less than €700 million and would enable us to reuse more than half of the current volume of water coming from EU wastewater treatment plants theoretically available for irrigation, avoiding more than five per cent of direct extraction from bodies of wastes and groundwater.”
Due to the impact on the EU’s water reserves of climate change, droughts and over-abstraction of water by agriculture and industry, the Commission intends to assess further potential uses for reclaimed wastewater. While its assessment is ongoing, Member States will continue to be permitted to reuse wastewater in irrigation, industry and for environmental and amenity-related purposes – under the proviso that the health of humans, animals and the wider environment are sufficiently protected. The Commission noted that the frequency and severity of droughts had increased markedly in the last 30 years, leading to amplified damage to the environment and economies; particularly in regions which rely heavily on agriculture.
The draft legislation on wastewater reuse for irrigation will be put to the plenary session of the European Parliament for a vote in early February.