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Monday, Nov 06, 2006
Columns - Euroscape
Europe gets serious on water management
The Vedas, which describe a land of many rivers flowing to the sea, concludes that water was the beginning of all things and the first of all elements and most potent because of its mastery over the rest: "Water swallows up the earth, extinguishes the flame, ascends on high, and by stretching forth as clouds challenges the heavens for their own, and the same falling down, becomes the cause of all things that grow in the earth." While in modern India, water shortage has been a tale of woe for decades, Europe has shown that a legal framework combined with involvement of citizens and efficient management is the key to deriving the benefits of the scarce resource.
EU Water Framework Directive
The increasing demand by citizens and environmental organisations for cleaner rivers and lakes, groundwater and coastal beaches has been evident for some time now.
It has recently been reconfirmed by a representative opinion poll in all 25 EU countries. When asked to list the five main environmental issues that Europeans are worried about, averaged results show that nearly half of the respondents are worried about "water pollution" (47 per cent), with figures for some of the individual countries as high up as 71 per cent. This demand by citizens is one of the main reasons why the Commission has made water protection one of its priorities. The European Water Policy is thus, getting polluted waters clean again, and ensuring clean waters remain so. In achieving these objectives, European citizens and citizens' groups are actively involved. The following will provide an overview on present state and future of European Water Policy.
An early beginning
Early European water legislation began, in a "first wave," with standards
for those of our rivers and lakes used for drinking water abstraction in 1975, and culminated in 1980 with the setting of binding quality targets for drinking water. Over the years, several other legislations have been added. But, the European experience has shown that legislation alone will not help achieve the desired objective.
Europe Gets Citizens involved
Whilst EU actions of the past, such as the Drinking Water Directive and the Urban Waste Water Directive, can duly be considered milestones, the European Water Policy has now created not only an increased awareness but also total involvement of citizens in water management. At the same time, the new policy and water management issues address problems in a coherent way.There is widespread consensus that water is an essential but scarce resource and must be managed carefully with the following key aims:
Expanding the scope of water protection to all waters, surface waters and groundwater
Achieving "good status" for all waters by a set deadline
Water management based on river basins
"Combined approach" of emission limit values and quality standards
Getting the prices right
Getting the citizen involved more closely
Here is an outline to show how these objectives are made operational:
River Basin Management: Europeans have the best model for a single system of water management which is "management by river basin." This means management of the natural geographical and hydrological unit instead of according to administrative or political boundaries. Here is a lesson for India. Initiatives taken forward by the States concerned for the Maas, Schelde or Rhine river basins have served as positive examples of this approach, with their cooperation and joint objective-setting across Member State borders, or in the case of the Rhine even beyond the EU territory.
Protecting Quality: There are a number of steps Europe has taken in regard to protecting the quality of water. The key ones at European level are general protection of the aquatic ecology, specific protection of unique and valuable habitats, protection of drinking water resources, and protection of bathing water.
Surface water: Europe has a general requirement for ecological protection, and a general minimum chemical standard, to cover all surface waters. These are the two elements "good ecological status" and "good chemical status."
Ground Water: One of the innovations of the European Law is that it provides a framework for integrated management of groundwater and surface water at the European level. Quantity is a major issue for groundwater. Digging of bore wells is prohibited in most of continental Europe. Direct discharges to groundwater is not permitted.
Drinking water disinfection: In Europe, most drinking water production companies use chlorine as a disinfectant. It is added to water as chlorine gas, calcium hypochlorite or sodium hypochlorite.
Ozone is added for flavour and odour control. For drinking water preparation from surface water, chlorine is used as a primary disinfectant in most cases.
For groundwater treatment, which is a simpler treatment process, chlorine is often the only proper disinfectant. Europe uses alternative disinfectants for drinking water disinfection, as well. France, for example, mainly uses ozone. Italy and Germany use ozone or chlorine dioxide as a primary oxidant and disinfectant. Chlorine is added for residual disinfection. Great Britain is one of few European countries that use chloramines for residual disinfection in the distribution network and for the removal of disinfection by products. Finland, Spain and Sweden use chloramines for disinfection occasionally.
The European Community has taken a number of measures to tackle pollution problems. Key examples are the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive and the Nitrates Directive, which together tackle the problem of eutrophication (as well as health effects such as microbial pollution in bathing water areas and nitrates in drinking water); and the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Directive, which deals with chemical pollution. The aim is to co-ordinate the application of these so as to meet the objectives established.
Pricing Water Right
Water is very expensive in Europe. A cubic meter of clean water costs as much as three euros. The reasons are clear. Countries of Europe are required to ensure that the price charged to consumers such as for the abstraction and distribution of fresh water and the collection and treatment of waste water reflects the true costs.
The need to conserve adequate, for which demand is continuously increasing is also one of the drivers behind pricing. Realistic water pricing acts as an incentive or, shall we say, a deterrent for the sustainable use of water resources by the consumer.
(The author is former Europe Director, CII, and lives in Cologne, Germany. Feedback may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org)
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