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31 Mar 2009


Sustainable Dev.
Health & Consumers
Climate & Environment

EUREAU is the European federation of national associations of drinking water suppliers and waste water services. EUREAU’s members represent more than 10.000 drinking water & waste water utilities across Europe that provide sustainable water services to more than 400 million European citizens.

“EUREAU recognises that the EEA Report brings some very crucial questions on the light and would like to ensure the public opinion and the policy makers that the water operators are not only aware about the problems but are already very actively tackling them”, said the Federation.

“The water companies are doing huge investments to bring high quality drinking water to everyone. In Europe, the standards are very high and to keep it at this level, it costs“, said Pierre-Yves Monette, the Secretary general of the Brussels based Federation. “Abundance of water forever, for everybody and for cheap is utopia.”, he concluded.

EUREAU members are firmly committed to deal with local situations of water scarcity in Europe. Against this background, the recently published EEA report “Water Resources across Europe- confronting water scarcity & drought” is a positive step as it helps to highlight this high-stake issue. From EUREAU point of view, this report should not lead to a single-track approach based on a demand-led management of the resource that would put at risk the long-term sustainability of water services in the areas subject to water scarcity. Such an approach would limit the possibility to implement innovative solutions and the need for long-term water supply planning. The provision of drinking water and waste water services to all EU citizens require huge investment from EUREAU members, causing a growth of tariffs, and it is recommended to have a pragmatic triple bottom-line analysis –environmental, social & economical- of every possible solution.

Water abstractions and water availability

Water suppliers are definitely curtailing water abstractions despite a growing number of connections to the distribution network and economic growth, with evidences of significant reductions in wide areas. The factors which prove efficient certainly were the implementation of environmental quality standards which led the big water consumers to reengineer their internal water cycles. The gradual implementation of the user-pays principle, with metering when necessary, also plays a role but probably not alone (due to the low price elasticity explained below). When considering domestic water demand reduction, a number of tap-fittings and household equipments allow lower consumption. Regarding pricing strategies, contrary to the report allegations, price increase not only is of concern for social reasons, but can also miss its targets due to the relative low price elasticity. Conversely, domestic water demand reduction leads to a higher cost per cubic meter, due to the high proportion of fixed costs in water investments. The simulation of impacts of lower consumptions must also take into account the impact on financing the waste water services: in most EU countries, this financing is based on the volumes of drinking water billed.

Solutions to water scarcity

One of the merits of the EEA report “Water Resources across Europe- confronting water scarcity & drought” is to further document possible solutions, such as the identification of warning or alert systems, drought management plans at river basin scale, and sector-specific measures such as temporary restrictions on irrigating water-intensive crops. EUREAU witnesses that efforts are underway regarding irrigation, and encourages further action in this field, including the report proposal that in areas under water stress, treated waste water should be reused for irrigation, with a scope for further EU wide harmonized regulation. Another potential user of treated wastewater is industry, with the exception of food processing industry. EUREAU also supports the idea that all means of enhancing water infiltration into the soil and progress towards soil saturation and aquifers recharge should be studied. On the precise question of private rainwater harvesting or in-house grey-water reuse, the report should have reported there also the concerns for public health mentioned in other places of the report.

Long-term water supply planning

The EU has recognized that priority should be given to the provision of drinking water to all EU citizens. In application of this principle, EUREAU highlights that water supply planning impacts the long term and must in no way result in an imbalance between supply and demand, nor in unaffordable water prices: leakage reduction is underway in the majority of cities and EU countries, and more ambitious targets are debated upon at the local level, which is the only relevant level. In balancing supply and demand, EUREAU member always take account of the local resource availability. New and classic equitable solutions must be explored in cooperation between cities, industries and agriculture, on the supply side as well as on the demand management side: all have to be studied as to their social, environmental, and economical impact. In EUREAU’s member experience, successful and sustainable examples of water scarcity and drought management do not rely on single-track approach, but rather on a set of complementary solutions.

Contact Person : Gregory MATHIEU, Communication Officer
+32 2 706 40 80
+ 32 473 72 23 56