Urban water Europe Water storage
Wednesday, 17 August 2022

New EU guidelines for agriculture water reuse

The European Commission has published new guidelines for the Member States for the safe reuse of treated wastewater for agricultural irrigation.

Coming in 2023

Called 'The Water Reuse Regulation', it will come into effect on 26 June 2023 and will outline the requirements for minimum water quality, risk management and water monitoring.

“Freshwater resources are scarce and increasingly under pressure," said European Commissioner for the Environment, Fisheries and Oceans Virginijus Sinkevičius.

"In times of unprecedented temperature peaks, we need to stop wasting water and use this resource more efficiently to adapt to the changing climate and ensure the security and sustainability of our agricultural supply."

Under this new legislation, treated urban wastewaters, which have already undergone treatments under the rules of the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive, will be subjected to further treatment to meet the new minimum quality parameters to become suitable for use in agriculture.

The new regulations say that adding an extra treatment step would in most cases be sufficient to meet the minimum requirements.

The regulation will apply whenever treated urban wastewater is reused for agricultural irrigation.

“Freshwater resources are scarce and increasingly under pressure.”

Currently, the minimum requirements in the European Water Reuse directive are concentrating on reducing pathogens.

There are no prerequisites for microplastics, pesticides and medical residues. Member States can decide to add regulations for this kind of substance in national water laws.

Under the new regulations, reclaimed water can be used for the agricultural irrigation of food crops consumed raw including root crops, above-ground low-growing crops and above-ground high-growing crops.

Processed food crops and non-food crops are also eligible.

The irrigation systems that can use this water are open or gravity-flow systems, sprinkler systems and micro irrigation systems.
"These guidelines can help us do just that and secure the safe circulation, across the EU, of food products grown with reclaimed water," Sinkevičius went on to say.

Who is responsible for enforcing these new regulations?

While there is still a while before these new regulations come into effect EU Member states have the right to reject the new guidelines under a few instances:

  • Climate conditions render water reuse unnecessary and/or uneconomical, due to the abundance of rainfall
  • If treated wastewater were to be redirected to a reclamation plant and subsequently to agriculture, this could deprive a surface water course of essential water volumes to guarantee the minimum ecological flow
  • Exemptions for research and pilot projects in the national regulations.

What is key in this report is that it clearly outlines the responsible parties for this regulation.

They include the reclamation facility operator; the urban wastewater treatment plant operator; the relevant authorities; and the reclaimed water distribution operator.

Are we on the verge of an agricultural revolution?

As severe droughts continue to become more common, reusing water from urban wastewater treatment plants is being touted as a tool to ensure a safe and predictable source of water.

The world population is expected to reach nearly 11 billion by 2050 which will lead to an increase in agricultural demand of approximately 70 per cent.

To meet this new demand, regulations such as this one from the EU are starting to look at new water to better utilise our water.

Agriculture is often considered one of the biggest drains of water resources and using urban water could provide a circular solution.

Three major European water utilities collectively serving over 14 million people across Europe united to help drive innovation in the urban water cycle.

Waternet, Berliner Wasserbetriebe and SIAAP came together to develop resource recovery, stormwater management, urban water management and research programmes.


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