Commission evaluation of the UWWTD released
Since its adoption in the early 1990’s, its implementation has substantially progressed, with most Member States now having high compliance rates for collection and secondary treatment. Compliance rates vary widely. Several Member States still need to make substantial efforts to be compliant, especially as regards reducing nutrients to required levels. Some of the initial 12 Member States are not yet fully compliant, whereas some Member States that joined the EU after 2004 have made remarkable progress within a relatively short time.
The 2019 evaluation finds the effectiveness of the directive variable, in so far as where it is well implemented it has been effective in reducing the amount of pollutants into the environment, improving water quality and helping achieve other water-related objectives, and importantly, human health too.
The UWWTD has also indirectly helped reduce the amount of chemicals and microplastics in the environment.
But the directive is not fully effective. Due to its partial implementation in some EU Member States, due mainly to a lack of funding and governance issues, there are gaps. The Commission promotes compliance through funding, with the highest amounts of all environment-related Cohesion policy funds available for this directive, and infringement procedures, amongst other tools. The OECD estimates show that an additional €253 billion has to be spent in the EU until 2030 to maintain or achieve full compliance. More will be needed to replace ageing infrastructure.
A few Member States have managed almost full cost recovery for their water supply and waste water sector, and to apply the ‘polluter pays’ principle by charging households and industries. The vast majority of Member States rely on a mix of tariffs, taxes and EU funding to finance the investments.
Another key success factor for the directive is its simplicity and clear targets. The main shortcomings were in:
1) the time needed to make these available;
2) the level or amount of information provided;
3) the lack of progress with technological advances and innovation uptake; and
4) limitations in providing relevant and readily accessible information to the public.
The Commission estimates that the benefits of the directive can lead - through a clean environment, better health, consumer protections and increased competitiveness - to benefits of up to €30.6 billion annually once the directive is fully implemented. The directive has also had a positive impact on the global competitiveness of the EU water sector.
The UWWTD interacts well with other EU water and environmental laws from a legal perspective, as well as in terms of supporting the implementation of other water legislation (for instance the Bathing Water Directive). Overall, the links with the main over-arching piece of water legislation, the Water Framework Directive, are clear and the directives are mutually supportive in reaching their goals.
And so, to the bottom line for the European water sector. The assessment also considered the UWWTD’s relevance and whether it is still fit for purpose. It is clear that waste water remains a major source of pollution and that Member States need to continuously make efforts to address this. As new societal problems were identified (contaminants of emerging concern, sludge and the circular economy, and energy), it is likely that the directive will be reviewed. In conclusion, the staff working document surmises that action at EU level is more effective in achieving goals than segmented actions from Member States.
Despite not being fully integrated in the directive, the relevance and potential of the UWWTD to foster innovation is well recognised.
Members can read more here.
Bertrand's blog is here: http://www.eureau.org/resources/eu-matters-blog/393-uwwtd-evaluation.