A new report claims that existing European Union water quality legislation imposes unreasonable wastewater quality demands on member nations, triggering more energy and chemical use, and causing more greenhouse gas emissions.
The report, “Catchment Management in the Water Industry,” was published by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. It says the EU Water Framework Directive has improved water quality through “energy and chemical intensive treatments which are hugely damaging to the environment.”
The institution is calling for the immediate review of EU legislation to address these “unintended consequences.”
Energy-Intensive Wastewater Treatment
When the institution examined the energy-intensive treatment processes needed to meet effluent targets within the 2000 Water Framework Directive, it found that water utilities in the United Kingdom alone are spending as much as £9 million a year on electricity needed to power activated sludge plants. An estimated 1 percent of the U.K.’s electricity is consumed by compressors used for wastewater aeration, according to the study, which maintains a more comprehensive, holistic water management policy is needed.
Controlling nitrogen and phosphorus levels in treated wastewater is extremely important. These compounds have been seen in raw sewage in greater quantities as the result of the increased use of detergents and fertilizers. The use of chemicals needed to remove nitrate and phosphate — ferric chloride, ferrous sulfate or aluminium salts — can trigger greenhouse gas emissions.
Jenifer Baxter, head of Energy and Environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said:
EU water regulation is aimed at improving the environment but the excessively stringent, universal rules have led to practices which do the very opposite. Currently, the negative side-effects of this directive to the environment may outweigh the benefits. The UN climate change talks will hopefully help put providing clean water and sanitation for all and driving down world emissions in the fore-front of political decision making; and revising the EU Water Framework Directive could be a relatively straight-forward way to help.
Baxter said having a one-size-fits-all approach to water quality across Europe is “neither effective, efficient nor appropriate.” The directive, which was implemented in 1991, contained three targets for compliance, the latest of which was the end of 2005.
Difficulty With Compliance
The United Kingdom was referred to the European Commission court in March 2015 for failing to comply with the EU directive.
Difficulty with compliance is occurring across the EU. Irish Water will need to spend at least €1 billion on upgrades to its water treatment plants to meet directives and avoid fines. Several EU member nations in the Danube River Basin are also reportedly having difficulty with wastewater treatment, including the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia, which have oversized facilities that according to the European Court of Auditors potentially are unstable.
Greece was fined and cited in October 2015 as a result of its noncompliance with a 2007 judgment related to the collection of urban wastewater. It defines “urban wastewater” as including both domestic and industrial wastewater. Six areas, or agglomerations, within Greece did not have wastewater treatment and/or collection systems. The nation has been fined €10 million and a periodic fine of €20,000/day.
In addition to a thorough review of the EU Water Framework Directive, the report suggests key structural reforms need to be undertaken by Ofwat, the water authority for England and Wales. This includes working with environmental authorities in Scotland, Ireland, and Wales regarding issues including investments in infrastructure modification.
The full report — “Catchment Management in the Water Industry” — is available online.