European Commission presents proposal for revision of the Drinking Water Directive

Back 1 februari 2018

European Commission presents proposal for revision of the Drinking Water Directive

​​Dutch European Commissioner Frans Timmermans, together with his colleague Karmenu Vella (Environment) today presented a proposal for the revision of Council Directive 98/83/EC "on the quality of water intended for human consumption", also known as the Drinking Water Directive.

In 2015, the European Commission launched an evaluation of the existing legislation as part of its REFIT (Regulatory Fitness and Performance) programme. It went on to explore policy options and conduct an impact assessment. Vewin has closely monitored this process, of which the proposal represents the latest stage. Vewin's Brussels office is following the dossier independently, although we are also in close contact with EurEau, the European lobbying organization for the water sector, and CEEP, which represents public sector service providers. 

Revision now essential

In preparing the proposal, the Commission first evaluated the current Directive, which was passed in 1998. A full impact assessment followed, which confirmed that the Directive is a useful means of safeguarding the quality of water supplied to households throughout Europe. The Directive fulfils its primary purpose by requiring the responsible parties to monitor quality on a regular basis and to take remedial action should any anomalies be found. However, the evaluation and impact assessment also revealed a number of areas in which improvement is possible. They include the list of test parameters, the introduction of a risk-based monitoring approach, regulations governing the trade in materials and products which come into contact with drinking water, and the quality of consumer information. 

Protection of sources

Arjen Frentz, chair of EurEau's drinking water committee, states: "Protecting sources of drinking water against contamination is in everyone's interests, not only today but also in the future. The Commission's proposal for a pan-European risk-based approach is an important first step, since it covers the entire water chain from source to tap."

Sector priorities

Vewin regards several aspects as having high priority in the European Parliament's further discussion of the proposal:

  • The 'precautionary principle' and accompanying standards. The proposed amendment to the Directive includes a number of new test parameters for substances such as beta-estriadol, bisphenol A, chlorate, chloride, haloacetic acids, microcystin-LR, nonylphenol, perfluorinated alkylated substances (PFAS) and uranium. 

  • The incorporation of risk analysis and risk management procedures in the Drinking Water Directive, with member states having discretion to finalize arrangements at the national level. The Commission intends to introduce risk-based analyses for water abstraction areas, mains water production, distribution grids and interior installations.

  • Relationship with the Water Framework Directive in terms of member states' obligations with regard to source protection. 

  • Harmonization of legislation governing chemicals and materials that come into contact with drinking water. The Commission's proposal favours maintaining the status quo. 

  • The Commission has taken heed of the civil initiative Right2Water and will require member states to guarantee access to drinking water, particularly for "vulnerable and marginalized groups". This is also in keeping with the sixth UN Sustainable Development Goal. 

  • The Commission intends to require consumer information to include aspects other than quality alone, such as prices, losses due to leakage, and organization and governance. 

Vewin will now study the proposals in depth before issuing a considered response to the Commission within the allotted eight-week period. The Commission will forward all responses to the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, which are jointly responsible for passing legislation at the European level. Throughout the remainder of the process, Vewin will continue to work closely with EurEau and CEEP. Vewin will also seek to ensure that the European Parliament is mindful of the interests of Dutch water production companies when it considers the proposal later this year, and as it prepares the final draft of the revised Directive in association with the Council of Ministers. This is expected to happen in early 2019.

EurEau's reports on the revision of the Drinking Water Directive can be found here.

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