Water re-use is not widespread in Europe. Most wastewater from urban treatment plants is simply flushed out into rivers and lakes. But increasing re-use would help us respond to the increasing problems of water scarcity and drought, while reducing the risk of contamination from wastewater and lowering treatment costs. Re-use of water also has a lower environmental impact than getting it from other sources such as inter-regional water transfers or desalination.
In spite of these advantages and the considerable potential for further development, There are several reasons why the level of re-use is so low, including:
Lack of common EU environmental/health standards for water re-use
Potential obstacles to the free movement of agricultural products that were irrigated with re-used water
Inadequate water pricing and business models
Low stakeholder awareness about the benefits of water re-use
Lack of public acceptance
Technical barriers and scientific uncertainties
The European Commission is launching a public consultation on a range of possible EU measures that would encourage the re-use of treated wastewater. We want to know what citizens, stakeholders, businesses, NGOs and public authorities think about the potential of re-use and obstacles to it, and what kind of regulatory and non-regulatory EU measures could effectively address these concerns and increase the uptake of safe water re-use in the EU.
The consultation, which is available here, is open until 7 November 2014. The results will feed into an Impact Assessment covering all key aspects of water re-use, including agricultural, urban, industrial, and recreational uses. In 2015, the Commission intends to present a formal proposal based on the evidence contained in the impact assessment.
Global climate change is putting increasing stress on Europe's freshwater resources. While this causes problems mostly in arid regions with low rainfall and high population density, temperate areas with intensive agricultural, tourism and industrial activities are also likely to be affected. This is leading to growing competition for water resources between the various water using sectors, which increases concern about the supplies of high quality resources reserved for drinking water.