European Commission approves provisional agreement on water reuse

With the new rules treated wastewater may be used for irrigation in all the European Member States.

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The European Commission agreed the 3d of December with the provisional rules for water reuse in agriculture. Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius stated the new rules can play an important part in addressing water stress and drought, while fully guaranteeing the safety of our citizens. This provisional agreement now has to be formally approved by the European Parliament and the European Council. And following their approval, the new rules will be published in the EU's Official Journal and enter into force twenty days later.

The proposal sets out harmonised minimum water quality requirements for safe reuse of treated urban wastewater in agricultural irrigation. Currently, the practice of water reuse is established in only a few Member States. By setting minimum requirements Brussels wants to ensure the safety of reusing wastewater and increase citizens' confidence in agricultural produce in the internal EU market. This harmonised approach will also facilitate the smooth functioning of the internal market for agricultural produce.

Extra treatment

Under the new legislation, treated urban wastewaters, which have already undergone certain treatments under the rules of the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive, would be subjected to further treatment to meet the new minimum quality parameters and thus become suitable for use in agriculture. Until now the main objective of wastewater treatment is still discharge. Adding an extra treatment step would in most cases be sufficient.

Monitoring and transparency

Besides the harmonised minimum requirements, the new legislation also sets out harmonised minimum monitoring requirements, risk management provisions to assess and address potential additional health risks and possible environmental risks and a permitting procedure and provisions on transparency, whereby key information about any water reuse project would be made publicly available.

Amendments

The EC-proposal with the intention to facilitate the reuse of treated wastewater for agricultural irrigation was adopted by the European Parliament in February 2018. The Plenary rejected an amendment of the ENVI-committee that would hold Waste Water Treatment Plants (WWTP’s) responsible for any contamination in reclaimed water. In June the European Council added in their general view on the Water Reuse Guideline that reclamation plants that are already in operation will be exempted from the validation monitoring obligations. All they have to do is meeting the reclaimed water quality requirements mentioned in the annexes, said Rafael Mujeriego president of the Spanish association of sustainable water reuse (Asersa) during a Spanish conference on identifying identifies barriers to water reuse.


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