Framing The Water Picture: The Dry Facts
Planet Earth is often referred as the “Blue Planet” because of the abundant water on its surface.
Indeed, two thirds of our planet’s surface is made of water. Yet around 97% of it is salty and there is less than 1% of freshwater on earth to be shared by over 7 billion people making water a scarce resource.
According to the World Resources Institute, 33 countries (out of 167 countries ranked) will face extremely high water stress by 2040.
Another study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology confirms this trend: over half of the world’s population will live in water stressed areas by 2050.
The access to water and sanitation has been recognised as a basic human right by the United Nations in 2010.
The 6th Sustainable Development Goal is to achieve “Clean Water and Sanitation” for all by 2030. And yet, water is taken for granted by most Europeans, as we benefit from an easy access to water in our daily life.
Getting safe drinking water 24/7 from the tap seems normal today because we have enjoyed this service for decades. But this may no longer be that simple in the long term if we do not start acting now.
Water Is Under Pressure
Clean water cannot be taken for granted. Not only is it a scarce resource, it is also vulnerable and subject to many pressures.
Indeed, water is facing several global challenges: climate change, population growth, and economic development.
The drought which occured in Scandinavia last summer and the recent floods in Italy are concerning examples of a disrupted water cycle caused by climate change.
Experts forecast an acceleration of the water cycle (evaporation, condensation, precipitation) due to global warming, which would lead to more ine-quality in water resource allocation amongst regions.
Droughts and deluges are likely to become the new norm.
Policymakers, businesses, and the civil society need to collectively address water challenges in a smart, efficient, and responsible way.
A number of measures could help solve this complex situation. Examples include enhancing water-use efficiency, recycling wastewater, modernising water infrastructure, imposing greater transparency in water governance, and tackling water pol- lution at the source.
Too Precious To Be Wasted: Closing The Loop
There is huge potential in reusing water. The agricultural and electricity sectors are using significant amounts of water.
70% of the world’s freshwater goes into farming alone (World Bank, 2017) and industry accounts for most of the rest.
It is time to become smart with water and optimise water use whether agricultural, industrial, or domestic.
It is time to shift towards a circular water management by reusing water.
This represents a solution for irrigation and would partly solve the problem of water availability, especially in coastal areas, where most population growth takes place.
The draft EU regulation on water reuse for irrigation put on the table by the Commission in May 2018 is an excellent basis.
It could also beneficially be extended to water reuse in the urban environment, such as street cleaning or parks irrigation.
Alternative sources of water such as rainwater and grey-water should also be used.
In general, Veolia supports legislative actions for reuse with quality indicators, and an effective monitoring system.
Wastewater treatment also involves the sewage sludge that should be more system atically recovered into energy or fertilisers.
To encourage both the recycling and reuse of sludge (which is beneficially limiting the use of chemical fertilisers), European regulations should break down the existing barriers and facilitate their access to the internal market.
The ongoing revision of the Fertiliser regulation should therefore allow the reuse of sewage sludge provided there are safe of contaminants.
Tackling Water Pollution At The Source
According to a Eurobarometer survey, 47% of Europeans are worried about water pollution.
A study from the International Food Policy Research Institute estimates that by 2050 more people will be exposed to high risks of water pollution due to an increasing amount of harmful substances.
These harmful substances include chemicals or micro-organisms, especially antimicrobial resistant bacteria coming from industrial, agricultural, or municipal discharge that are deteriorating water quality levels and threatening the environment as well as human health.
Today, nutrient pollution (nitrates and phosphates) is the most common type of contamination of freshwater.
Chemical fertilisers, and also pesticides, used by European farmers to grow crops make their way into our water.
A better monitoring system and stronger standards of water quality should be enshrined in European law.
Endocrine disruptors are now addressed in the recast of the Drinking Water Directive based on the precautionary principle.
The European Union should intervene to remove various pollutants before discharge into the environment.
Moreover, the polluter pays principle should be implemented across all EU Member States: polluting should cost more than removing the pollution as to avoid its negative impacts on human health and the environment.
Modernising Water Infrastructure Across Europe
There is a clear need to modernise ageing water infrastructure in Europe. The World Economic Forum estimates that investing $26 trillion in water infrastructure will be needed between 2010 and 2030.
In France alone, the business as usual replacement rate of water supply networks results in 160 years being necessary to replace this asset, and 140 years for wastewater collection and treatment.
With the EU Multiannual Financial Framework being discussed, there is an opportunity to dedicate more EU funds to renovating and building water infrastructure where necessary.
To facilitate their absorption and the emergence of viable projects, the blending of EU Structural funds with public- private partnerships should be facilitated.
Water Operators As Solution Providers
At Veolia, we have always been committed to continuously provide the best quality services to almost 100 million consumers we serve every day with drinking water and the 60 million people with wastewater services across 40 countries worldwide.
To achieve this, we have 80,000 staff in the water sector, operating nearly 10,000 urban water and wastewater systems under all climates.
Our services include abstraction, production and delivery of drinking water and industrial process water, collection, treatment and recycling of wastewater from all sources as well as by-products from its treatment (organic matter, salts, metals, complex molecules and energy), customer relationship management, as well as the design and construction of treatment and network infrastructure.
All this expertise allows Veolia to support its customers in the implementation of integrated and sustainable water resource management.
The recent progress of our teams to reduce energy needs on the one hand, and to increase usable biogas volumes on the other hand, now allow us to design energy-neutral wastewater treatment plants which produce as much energy as they consume.
Innovation: Ocean Of Opportunities
Innovation and technological breakthroughs can solve many of today’s challenges, anticipating those of tomorrow.
As it is becoming cheaper and less energy consuming, water desalination has tremendous potential for coastal regions poor in freshwater.
The widespread use of smart meters and sensors throughout water networks to collect real-time data will enable predictive and pre- ventive analytics in order to further improve water management by making informed decisions.
It contributes for exemple to reducing the environmental impact (smart irrigation, leak detection, etc). Digitalisation enables evaluation and performance improvement, as well as smart solutions deployment.
With 2EI, Veolia has also developed digital applications for cities and their citizens enabling them to access free and real-time information.
In France, we have created NovaVeolia a dedicated subsidiary to the development of innovative services helping public or private cus tomers to supervise, amongst other: simplified and digitalised mass invoicing and collection; smart payment; sharing knowledge about the water cycle in collaborative forum; mobile app to improve how they manage their water and energy consumption and eventually control their connected house!
A Watershed Moment For EU Water Policy
The “Right2Water” campaign which gathered strong support, with nearly 2 million signatures, shows that European citizens truly care about access to water, and want to be more involved in the decision-making process of water policy.
The current revision of the EU Drinking Water Directive is a great opportunity to take stock of the progress made by the European Parliament on access, transparency, on the necessary links with Integrated Water Resource Management.
The EU authorities should not miss this opportunity to conclude the trilogue on this legislation, notably to reinforce access to drinking water and transparency (on costs, investments, leakage rates, etc.) for its citizens.
European water policy should be future proof and overall better protect water as a shared resource.
Members of the European Parliament elected in the next legislative elections in May 2019, and the new European Commission that will take office should continue to play a key role in promoting a sustainable and circular water-smart society.
Along the regulation on Reuse of treated wastewater, the review of the Water Framework Directive, and of the Urban Waste Water Treatment one, will also be decisive to address the concerns mentioned above.
Let us ensure future generations enjoy the same access to affordable and quality water services!