No water, no reuse

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

Roberto Mazzini: "We are surrounded by water. We have a plethora of rivers and lakes and seas around us in Europe. It seems like we have a lot, but in reality we don’t." [Shutterstock]

The European Parliament can save the entire water reuse project, or render the whole exercise until now worthless when it votes on 12 February, writes Roberto Mazzini.

Mazzini is the chair of Joint Working Group on Water Reuse in EurEau, the association representing Europe’s water sector (EurEau).

The Parliament is on the point of threatening the entire practice of water reuse in Europe. It boils down to one amendment; the full liability for the safety of reused water cannot lie only with reclamation facility operators.

We are surrounded by water. We have a plethora of rivers and lakes and seas around us in Europe. It seems like we have a lot, but in reality, we don’t.

Water is a finite resource, and in order to ensure that we have enough to meet our future needs, it is sometimes necessary to reuse treated wastewater, for example in agriculture, to reduce pressure on water resources and keep it available to provide us all with drinking water.

The water that is to be reused must be treated to make it safe. By regulating for this, the Commission is creating the basis for a harmonised approach to water reuse in agriculture and increases the trust and the development of the practice across the continent.

The European Parliament’s ENVI Committee voted on their report on the Regulation for Minimum Requirements for Water Reuse last month. This regulation sets out the quality parameters for reclaimed water and the requirements that need to be put in place for safe water reuse in agricultural irrigation.

The water quality requirements are stringent and will guarantee the safety of the practice for our health and the environment, as demonstrated in the last years by the numerous case studies of agricultural water reuse already existing in the different member states.

The European Parliament’s position advances the European Commission’s proposal by explicitly setting the responsibility of the reclamation facility operator until the point of compliance, where the reclaimed water is delivered to the next actor in the chain. This was an important step for the proper functioning of the regulation and the European Parliament worked well to deliver this.

However, MEPs voted for one amendment that introduces a strong threat to reclamation facility operators and may put current and future water reuse at risk.

This amendment states that the reclamation facility operator should be responsible and liable for any kind of pollution of the soil or agricultural products if farmers use reclaimed water. This is simply not acceptable.

The reclamation facility operator cannot be held liable for any possible contamination. No reclamation facility operator will take the risk to produce reclaimed water under the threat of having to compensate for the pollution they are not responsible for. It would result in exorbitant costs linked to the prohibitive insurance policies necessary to cover the risks for any possible damage.

If no reclaimed water is produced, no reuse will happen. The regulation needs to limit the liability of the reclamation facility operators to what they can control: the production of reclaimed water. If the water is compliant with the regulation, its liability should not be automatically engaged. This has to be clearly stated in the regulation or it will kill water reuse.

We count on MEPs to be realistic when they vote on Tuesday (12 February).  We need to reuse water and a sensible and logical decision by the Parliament will realise this.

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