BR INTERVIEW. Claudia Castell-Exner (EurEau): “We need to invest in the maintenance and renewal of water infrastructure to keep water services affordable for all European citizens”

Newsroom 21/10/2019 | 07:00

Business Review spoke to Claudia Castell-Exner, Vice President and general assembly representative at EurEau, an organisation representing drinking water and waste water service providers from both the private and the public sectors across Europe, whose Annual Congress will take place in Bucharest on October 23-25 and will be hosted by Apa Nova. Claudia talked about the water-related challenges faced by European countries, including Romania, and the ways in which the EU and national authorities are planning to address them.

Why did you decide to organise this congress in Romania? 

We were delighted to be invited by Apa Nova Bucharest to come to Romania for this year’s EurEau Annual Congress.

Romania faces the same water challenges as the rest of Europe: climate change, pollutants, increased demand from sectors such as agriculture, investment and pricing. We look forward to discussing these issues here and finding solutions so that we can all keep providing consumers with safe drinking water supply and waste water management services.

What is Europe’s strategy for water management for next years?

The EU is looking at several ways to manage water to protect our resources and ensure we all rely on safe and sustainable services today and tomorrow.

The EU is evaluating and reviewing its key pieces of water legislation at the moment. This covers quality parameters to keep our drinking water healthy and safe, minimum requirements for the reuse of treated waste water for farmland irrigation, requirements for waste water treatment and the protection of surface waters and groundwater. There is a push for more transparency and energy efficiency in the water sector.

The Commission president elect von der Leyen proposes a new green deal and a zero pollution ambition for the European Union. EurEau shares the view that the goal of ’zero pollution’ in Europe belongs at the top of the political agenda. The principles of precaution, prevention and the polluter-pays, as set out in Article 191 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, are hardly applied in reality. This has to change.

The new Commission’s commitment to protecting the environment is motivating, as it gives an impetus to improving and aligning existing legal acts in environmental, agricultural and chemicals policy in such a way that dangerous substances are not permitted in the first place.

As well, we are looking forward to see the proposal for the first European Climate Law. President-elect von der Leyen has asked commissioner-designate for the ‘green deal’ Frans Timmermans to work on terms of supporting water operators in their efforts to increase the resilience of their individual water services in his first 100 days in office.

What are the challenges for a sustainable water management?

The theme of our plenary session this year is sustainable water management. We will look at two issues that affect everyone: climate change and micropollutants. Our world is changing and we experience both more droughts and floods. These unpredictable weather events are challenges we must manage. On top of this, we need to protect our water resources from micropollutants entering.

For micropollutants the ‘control-at-source’ approach must become the norm. It is often only a matter of time when mobile substances, in particular, reach the water cycle – currently an occasion to address the fact that, in the REACH Regulation, not only the persistence, bioaccumulation and toxicity of substances, but also their mobility should lead to the exclusion of marketing.

In any case, great efforts are needed to achieve zero pollution of water resources through human and veterinary pharmaceuticals. The lack of acceptance in the pharmaceutical industry of taking responsibility for the entire life cycle of their products in the environment is a permanent issue. The strategic concept of the EU Commission on that topic published in May 2019 falls far short of expectations.

How are hotspots identified and vulnerabilities dealt with?

European legislation stipulates minimum quality requirements for all types of water, be it for drinking purposes, waste, reclaimed, surface or groundwater. It is up to the Member States themselves to identify hotspots, for example for point pollution, and take mitigating measures to comply with EU legislation.

With regards to vulnerabilities, drinking water catchment areas are – for instance – addressed by the European Water Framework Directive. Member States may establish safeguard zones for these water bodies and establish an adequate risk management for these vulnerable areas.

Which European countries adopted laws to reduce water consumption and how can they be a model for Romania?

We are not aware of specific national laws to reduce water consumption. The European Water Framework Directive requires Member States to implement water-pricing policies that provide adequate incentives for consumers to use water resources efficiently. Based on this and bearing in mind the changed consumption pattern in the population as well as the development and use of water-saving fittings and household appliances (shower heads, modern flushing cisterns etc.) water consumption has been constantly declining since 1990 in European countries. With the increasing pressure from climate change, drinking water suppliers provide advice on water savings on their website, via social media campaigns or together with their invoices.

How can we make people more responsible about water management and climate change in our country? 

A lot of it is about what one person can do. Make small actions – turn off the tap when you’re brushing your teeth, taking a shower or doing the washing up. Install water-saving fittings and household appliances at home. Reuse water when you’re watering plants or your garden or take a reusable bottle to fill up when you’re out and about. There are plenty of possibilities to act “water-wise”.

What targets are reasonable and achievable?

Today, we have very different consumption levels in Europe, ranging from an average daily residential consumption of 245 litres of water a day in Italy to an average of 78 litres in Estonia. Romania sits somewhat in the middle, at 136 litres a day. It is difficult to determine an absolute figure which is achievable across the continent. But education is vital. We all need to teach people how to be responsible consumers and use resources wisely.

Although water never gets lost due to the fact that it is kept constantly in the water cycle, it is vital that we protect it. I strive for fresh, clean and safe water for the future and our children’s future.

Can new technologies help reduce water consumption?

Yes! Technology and innovation work for everyone, from aquaponic systems in agriculture to more efficient appliances for domestic users.

Our dishwashers and washing machines require less water and energy – and run only full loads! Clothes washing accounts for more than 20 percent of residential indoor water use! Whether you’re shopping for a front- or top-loading washer, to save the most water, look for an Energy Star–certified machine. These machines use about 40 percent less water than regular washers. So, by choosing the most efficient machines we can, we can all help reduce consumption through technology.

Toilets, for example, account for nearly 30 percent of an average home’s indoor water consumption. Older toilets use as much as 22 litres per flush. But the newer, use just 5-6 litres of water per flush.

Showering accounts for almost 17 percent of household indoor water use. To save water here, replace a regular showerhead with a water-saving showerhead, which uses 7,5litres a minute or less while offering the same or better shower performance. And shorten your showers. Use a kitchen timer to time your showers. Aim for five minutes or less.

Installing a smart water meter can help check your consumption in real time and they help water operators detect and repair leaks.

How can an individual reduce their excessive water consumption? Give us some insights.

I personally try to be water wise at home, at the office and when I am abroad.

My showers are hot but pretty short, so I turn on the shower head only if necessary. Then, I use every drop and repurpose water. One easy way is to capture under your colander the potable water you use to rinse fruits and veggies, and use it for watering the plans indoor and in the garden.

If there is a leak we fix it. A slow drip from a leaking tap can waste as much as 75 litres of water a day. A leaky toilet can waste 750 litres a day.

I only run full loads in the washing machine and dish washer – nevertheless they are not up to date in terms of water and energy efficiency. I’ll have to replace them soon!

Is Romania a good practice country regarding water management?

Each country choses the water management model which is best adapted to its specific circumstances. And each system has its pros and cons.

Policies and measures should promote sustainable water use. Most countries have water resource management plans that address both supply and demand.

What are the financial impacts of increases in the cost of water, and disruption or reduction in the supply of water for the business market?

Affordability is one of the dimensions of the human right to water and sanitation: in order to implement the Sustainable Development Goals 6 in the EU, we need to invest in the maintenance and renewal of water infrastructure to keep water services affordable for all European citizens, now and in the future.

European water services provide 24/7 drinking water which is safe, wholesome and clean as well as the professional collection and treatment of waste water. Access to drinking water is a reality in all European Member States and we want to keep it this way for the future generations.

Water services, however, have a cost that is covered by the water bill. The  Water Framework Directive clearly states that the so-called “cost recovery principle” has to be applied by Member States. Public authorities have to enforce the ‘Polluter-Pays’ Principle: it is too easy to resort to the ‘consumer-pays’ principle.

How can we work collaboratively with local stakeholders to develop and execute strategies, which ensure water availability over the long term?

It is vital that we all ensure that we have an abundant supply of safe, clean and affordable water for everyone today, and tomorrow. We can only do this by working together with all local stakeholders who share responsibilities in the chain from water catchment to tap and later on from waste water to waste water treatment. We have to act now to keep our drinking water resources free from contaminants, ensure proper waste water treatment, mitigate the effects of climate change, and all the other challenges we face.

Our environment is changing tremendously. Only by bringing all relevant stakeholders together can we address challenges. We need locally a long-term strategy and strong governance accompanied by adequate financing tools to maintain water infrastructures in a sustainable way. Local challenges, and there are many good examples of local cooperation in Europe.

About EurEau

EurEau is the voice of Europe’s water sector, representing drinking water and waste water operators from 29 countries in Europe, from both the private and the public sectors.

The organisation’s members are 32 national associations of water services. EurEau brings national water professionals together to agree European water sector positions regarding the management of water quality, resource efficiency and access to water for Europe’s citizens and businesses. The EurEau secretariat is based in Brussels.

With a direct employment of around 476,000 people, the European water sector makes a significant contribution to the European economy.


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