Drinking water rules cleaned up by MEPs

Water suppliers will have to report on how leaky their pipes are but not on their energy performance, according to MEPs. [Shutterstock]

Members of the European Parliament’s environment committee voted on Monday (10 September) to update drinking water rules to remove pollutants from what comes out of our taps. But they have also been criticised for striking a blow against transparency.

The European Commission’s proposal to tighten leaky drinking water rules was reinforced in Strasbourg this week, when MEPs endorsed measures to monitor and report leakages, ensure access for vulnerable groups and reduce contamination.

Maximum limits on pollutants like lead and harmful bacteria will be more stringent, and new caps on certain endocrine disruptors will be imposed if the Parliament’s position is adopted as it is.

Report author Michel Dantin (EPP) said he was “pleased that the environment committee has adopted a clear position proposing a pragmatic and realistic response to the demands of European citizens, in particular the Right2Water initiative.”

That initiative was one of the first Citizens’ Initiatives to directly guide EU legislation, after more than a million people signed up to it.

Leaky drinking water rules tightened by EU

The European Commission revealed on Thursday (1 February) how it plans to update drinking water rules, with the goal of improving human health, reducing emissions and tackling plastic waste high on the list of priorities.

Dantin’s report confirmed that EU countries should take measures to improve water access, including setting up public water fountains and encouraging restaurants and bars to offer H2O for free.

Drinking water regulation is closely linked to a number of other EU rules in the pipeline, including energy performance and plastic reduction, and measures will be introduced to monitor micro-plastics.

Transparent waters

The new rules also aim to increase the transparency of Europe’s water systems by requiring large-scale water suppliers to report on how leaky their pipes are, so that consumers can be made aware of where their utility bills are going.

Member states will have to assess their pipes and adopt leak reduction targets for 2030 by at least 2022 for water suppliers as well.

But a Commission plan to force water suppliers to report on energy performance ended up being stripped from the agreed position, after shadow-rapporteur Ulrike Müller (ALDE), backed by the EPP group, removed it.

Energy consumption in the European Union, including in its water systems, is significant because of its knock-on effects on the climate and human health. The International Energy Agency estimates that the European water sector sucks up 3.5% of the bloc’s annual electricity demand.

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The Commission proposal, although criticised for not being ambitious enough by some groups, could theoretically bring down water prices as utilities would have a hard time justifying prices if they are based on poor infrastructure.

EU affairs director at the Danfoss Group, Alix Chambris, called the vote a “half success” due to the energy performance reporting’s removal, calling it a missed opportunity for “huge energy savings potential”.

She added that “progressive industries” are now looking at the Council, which will have to come up with and defend its own position against the Parliament and Commission, to fight the corner of energy efficiency in the water sector.

But the Parliament is not done yet and a full vote is scheduled for the 22-25 October plenary session.

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