EWM press release on the reuse of treated wastewater in Europe

Brussels, October 18, 2019

Since the publication of an EU action plan for the circular economy in 2015, the circular economy has been at the heart of the European Union's economic and environmental policies. As the reuse of treated wastewater is considered one of the most promising forms of circular economy, the European Commission has taken several measures to promote this practice in the European Union, including the drafting in 2018 of a Regulation on minimum requirements for water reuse. This Regulation was adopted in 2019 by the European Parliament and the Council with a very large number of amendments. In the coming weeks, negotiations in the trilogue are expected to lead to the adoption of the final version of the Regulation.

European Water Movement, most of whose members are confronted with projects to reuse treated wastewater on their territory, wishes to make several comments on the Regulation and more generally on the promotion of the reuse of treated wastewater, in particular for agricultural irrigation. It seems to us that every project must first be the subject of a study seriously assessing its impact on health, environmental and economic aspects. One of the European Commission's tasks should be to formalise this study as much as possible, in order to help Member States to implement only projects that are viable for these three aspects. The measures, including legislative measures taken so far by the European Commission on the reuse of treated wastewater, rather lead to simplification and weakening of the impact assessment, with a significant risk of implementing projects that go against some of the objectives of the circular economy.

The Regulation on minimum requirements for water reuse only addresses health aspects, leaving aside economic and environmental aspects. It is based on a highly questionable premise: reuse of treated wastewater would be limited in Europe partly because of "the lack of common Union environmental or health standards for water reuse". As noted in amendment 8 of the European Parliament, it is rather the "significant cost of wastewater reuse systems" that limits water reuse. The difference in the financing capacity of projects between or within Member States, coupled with a lax application of the full cost recovery (users of treated waste water pay little or nothing for water and the water reuse system, which is most often heavily subsidised by the competent authorities), leads to distortions of competition in the internal market. Surprisingly, the European Commission never refers to it but prefers to insist the relative risk that the absence of common health standards within the Union would pose to "the free movement of products irrigated with reclaimed water".

Treated wastewater leaving the treatment plant may pass through an additional treatment facility, a storage facility, a distribution network before reaching the end user. As the European Parliament has rightly pointed out (amendments 41 to 49), these different components of the wastewater reuse system can be operated by public or private operators, different from the operator of the treatment plant. Therefore, operators must be identified in the risk management plan. Points of compliance for water quality should be included in each component of the reuse system. The European Water Movement encourages the European Commission to take into account these considerations of the European Parliament, which clarify the roles and responsibilities of the various actors.

Annex I of the Regulation defines the minimum quality requirements for 4 classes of reclaimed water and authorizes for each class a crop category and an irrigation method. European Water Movement regrets that the minimum quality requirements focus on microbiological health risks (bacteria, viruses, parasites) at the expense of chemical health risks (heavy metals, pesticides, drug residues, emerging micropollutants). Chemical health risks are subject to additional requirements that may be defined by the competent authorities. The additional requirements therefore introduce a disparity between Member States that the Regulation was intended to eliminate. Minimum requirements are based on scientific data, most of which is more than 30 years old. The European Water Movement is surprised that more recent data have not been taken into account in the Regulation, such as the decrease in production of specific crops irrigated by treated waste water with a high concentration of sodium, potassium and chlorine.

According to the European Water Movement, a project to reuse treated wastewater for agricultural irrigation must meet several prerequisites. Water reuse can only take place at the head of the river basin if the ecological flow regime of the rivers is ensured all year round; otherwise, the treated wastewater must be returned to the rivers after adequate treatment for meeting this requirement. Treated wastewater should replace water withdrawn from rivers or aquifers in order not to foster water additional consumption. Treated wastewater should be provided primarily to farmers engaged in sustainable agriculture (climate-friendly crops, water-efficient farming practices, low use of pesticides and fertilizers, short circuits, food products) and not to those engaged in high value-added agriculture as unfortunately recommended by the European Commission. The fields irrigated by treated wastewater should not be too far from the treatment plant in order to limit the investment and operating costs of the treated wastewater reuse system.

The European Water Movement notes that the majority of current projects and experiments for the reuse of treated wastewater for agricultural irrigation do not meet the above-mentioned prerequisites. In the Languedoc-Roussillon, the projects mainly concern the irrigation of vines and golf courses and too rarely the irrigation of vegetables. In the Hautes-Pyrénées, a project financed by the region and the water agency will make it possible to irrigate maize by sprinkling despite the negative opinion of the regional health agency. In the Tajo Segura basin, the intensive agriculture will benefit from treated wastewater to irrigate, after depleting groundwater resources through mostly illegal catchments and surface water resources through massive water transfers, without questioning this disastrous mode of production for the environment.

The European Water Movement also considers the reuse of treated wastewater a very bad option to recharge groundwater supplying water for human consumption. Negative aspects related to these reuse projects can be already identified, such as the prohibitive costs of the most efficient technologies like reverse osmosis or pollution of most aquifers when conventional wastewater treatment technologies are used.

According to the European Commission and the governments of the Member States, circular economy will allow economic growth coupled with a sustainable use of natural resources. Thus, reuse of treated wastewater for irrigation will increase agricultural production while preserving water resources. This is an illusion since only 30% of the world economy can be "circularized". In parallel with the establishment of the circular economy, it will therefore also be necessary to radically change our production methods and to take the path of degrowth.

Contacts

Annelies Broekman - anneliesbroekman (at) gmail.com +34 6 87 51 07 82
David Sanchez - dsanchez (at) fweurope.org +34 6 16 20 69 42
Thierry Uso - eau34 (at) orange.fr +33 4 67 63 40 83

It‘s not too late to save Hasankeyf and Tigris River!

No filling of the Ilisu Dam Reservoir!

For 12.000 years, Hasankeyf in the Southeast of Turkey has been a site of uninterrupted human settlement. With the labour of dozen of cultures this outstanding universal site has been created on the banks of the Tigris River and adjacent small valleys and hills. Recent excavations show that Hasankeyf lays atop of a deep, uncovered cultural heritage. Independent researchers state that Hasankeyf and the surrounding Tigris Valley are as important historically as Ephesus, Troy and Cappadocia and fulfill 9 out of the 10 UNESCO criteria for a World Heritage Site. It is assumed that Hasankeyf is the twin of Göbeklitepe, a sanctuary site 225 km to the west with a similar age, which led to global new conclusions on history’s first human settlement.

While the Turkish government achieved the inclusion of Göbeklitepe in UNESCO’s World Heritage List, Hasankeyf and the surrounding Tigris Valley is planned to be flooded by the Ilisu Dam and Hydroelectric Power Plant Project, which is almost fully constructed. In recent statements the Turkish government announced that it will start the filling of the Ilisu dam reservoir on June 10, 2019. Officials add that in October 2019 Hasankeyf town would be affected by raising water level.

The Ilisu Project was and is a completely wrong and destructive investment. That is why since the beginning the project it was strongly opposed not only at the local level in Turkey, but also in Iraq, Syria and globally. Contrary to official claims, the dam would have no socio-economic or any other benefit for the majority of society in the affected region and up to 80.000 people would loose their livelihoods. Apart from Hasankeyf, an important part of the not yet excavated cultural heritage in Upper Mesopotamia along the Tigris River would be flooded. The biodiversity of the Tigris River ecosystem – still mainly natural – would be degraded significantly. The Ilisu Project would also gravely affect the downstream stretches of the Tigris, seriously jeopardizing the water supply of major Iraqi towns, and Iraqi agriculture would be put under serious risk. In particular the UNESCO site of Mesopotamian Marshes in southern Iraq would be threatened with drying out due to reduced downstream flows.

In the last few years, the government’s program of so-called “monument relocation and consolidation of rocks" has seriously damaged the cultural heritage in Hasankeyf. But there is still so much cultural heritage left to rescue. Despite the project near completion, we believe strongly that the cancellation of the Ilisu project would stimulate a process from which the broader local population, Turkey and Iraq would benefit directly, economically as well as socially and culturally.

We call upon on the Turkish government not to start the filling by the Ilisu Dam, neither in June nor later. Instead a new broad, participative and transparent discussion with all representatives of the local population on the future of the affected five provinces should be started. Based on the common outcomes of these participatory discussions, policies on the future of the Tigris Valley and the surrounding region should be developed and implemented with the agreement of all affected parties. Another condition should be the achievement of a mutual agreement with Iraq and Syria according to international law, which should guarantee sufficient water flows into the Mesopotamian Marshes and southern Iraq.

We call on all people and organizations all around the world to support our demands and to launch similar calls on the Turkish government!

Read more...

Call of the European Water Movement for European elections

The European Water Movement is an open, participatory and pluralist network of social movements, organizations and committees, and trade unions whose aim is to strengthen the recognition of water as a commons and water and sanitation access as universal fundamental right. We are united in the fight against the privatization and the commodification of this vital resource, as well as in the promotion and the implementation of a public and collective management of the water and sanitation services, based on democratic participation of citizens and workers.

Since its foundation in 2012 the members of the European Water Movement have played a significant role and have engaged in advocating for water justice and the recognition and implementation of the human right to water and sanitation at EU, national and local level.

Our members are based in: Portugal, Spain, France, Ireland, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Greece, and Serbian and Bosnian organizations recently joint us.

The European elections in May 2019 are a crucial moment for the European Water Movement to get in touch with candidates: we call you to take a position in support of the human right to water and sanitation, commit to our values and promote policies that recognise water as a commons.

HUMAN RIGHT TO WATER

Seven years since the achievement of the first ever European Citizens Initiative, in which the European Water Movement played a key role, but we are still waiting for a real implementation of the human right to water and sanitation in the EU and the member states. It is a fundamental issue for the European Water Movement and its members, we ask you to commit to support it.

We also demand that all European water laws explicitly mention the recognition of the human right to water and sanitation, and water as a commons.

The lack of recognition of the human right to water and sanitation is reflected in a diverse range of policies at EU level where MEPs support is crucial.

-- DRINKING WATER DIRECTIVE

The recast of the Drinking Water Directive voted by the European Parliament does not include or recognise the human right to water, while the European Commission pretended that this was one of the aim of the recast. We call on MEPs to scrap the current text and reformulate a more ambitious proposal reinforcing art 13 European Commission's draft. We also call for a more effective approach to chemical substances like PfAs or PfOs and microplastics. 

-- WATER FRAMEWORK DIRECTIVE

Clean water is essential to life, and this requires protecting water bodies. The Water Framework Directive, key legislative instrument for water protection, has to be continued after 2027. The upcoming fitness check must include a concretisation of the prohibition of water deterioration and strengthen effective enforcement mechanisms. Also, recital 1 needs to be strengthened according to the demands of the millions of citizens expressed by the Citizens' Initiative Right2Water: water supply and management of water bodies not be subject to ‘internal market rules’

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Water is under assault in Mesopotamia

 

 

Declaration of the First Mesopotamian Water Forum
University of Sulaimani,
Sulaymaniyah, Kurdistan Region of Iraq, 6-8 April 2019

Over-extraction; the draining of marshes and wetlands; deforestation; too many irrigation projects, poorly-drained land; pesticides and fertiliser run-off; contamination by poorly or often un-treated discharges from industry as well as households; the widespread building of large and cascade small dams; the increasing exploitation of groundwater aquifers; stream channelization; inter catchment water transfer schemes; and the ravages of fossil-fuel-induced climatic change have variously disrupted hydrological cycles and created conditions of severe local and regional scarcity. For human and non-human beings, such physical scarcities have been exacerbated by policies aimed at commodifying and/or politicising water, denying access to the common good of water.

Taken separately, each of those assaults would be cause for grave concern. Taken together, they pose a threat to the collective survival of humans and non-humans alike. Defending water and the right of all forms of life to access to water, in Mesopotamia, is now a critical civic duty: without water, there can be no life.

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Letter of support from the European Water Movement to the Mesopotamian Water Forum

With this letter, the members and allies of the European Water Movement express their support and solidarity to the people organizing the Mesopotamian Water Forum, a civil society forum on the alternative management of Euphrates and Tigris rivers and their tributaries in Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran that will take place between 6 and 8 April 2019 in Sulaymaniyah, Kurdistan region of Iraq.

All over the world there are examples of damages caused by dams and hydropower plants. Evidence is well documented and international network of people fighting against these damages are ever growing. Therefore, the fight against dams might be considered as a global fight.

The European Water Movement is part of this international network defending the rivers, the territories and the communities linked to them.

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