Vewin wants better protection of drinking water sources in river basin management plans

Back 5 maart 2020

Vewin wants better protection of drinking water sources in river basin management plans

The European Commission has indicated that it is not going to take any concrete measures to prevent halts of intake of water for drinking water production. This is evident from the Commission's response to the call for rapid action by MEP Anja Hazekamp (of the Dutch Party for the Animals) at the end of last year. Hazekamp made her appeal following the halt of intake of water for drinking water production from the river Maas in November 2019 by the drinking water companies WML, Dunea and Evides. This halt was due to high pollution levels of the Maas river with the pesticide prosulfocarb, which had ended up in the river in Belgium.

Hazekamp thinks the high annual number of necessary halts in the intake of river water for drinking water production is unacceptable. She therefore called on the Commission to take urgent measures to combat the pollution of drinking water sources by pesticides and other chemicals. She also asked the European Commission whether the large number of violations of standards for different substances is not a reason to call the Member States to order and to let them take responsibility for preventing pollution of ground and surface water.

Commission: No need for concrete measures at this time

In response to the questions, the Commission indicated that there is no need to propose concrete measures at this time. Instead, the Commission points to the obligation under the Water Framework Directive (WFD) to cooperate in dealing with cross-border pollution in international river basin districts in RBMPs (River Basin Management Plans). In this context, the Commission refers to the evaluation of the latest river basin management plans at the beginning of 2019, in which recommendations were made to Member States to take measures to reduce pollution and to protect drinking water. The Commission also states that, according to a provision in the WFD, Member States should report the failure to meet quality targets due to cross-border pollution. The Commission also points out that the WFD is, in general terms, fit for purpose and that the Drinking Water Directive – whose revision is very nearly finished- will improve the protection of drinking water sources by taking a risk-based approach from source to tap.

Hazekamp: "The response of the European Commission is very disappointing"

Anja Hazekamp thinks the response of the European Commission is disappointing. 'In its replies, the European Commission refers to the revised Drinking Water Directive, but this directive is mainly about monitoring and water purification. These are important aspects, but it is even more important that drinking water - ground and surface water - is effectively protected at the source. There still is insufficient control over pollution from agricultural pesticides, (new) chemical substances, pharmaceutical residues, and other substances; existing rules to protect water sources, such as the Water Framework Directive, are not being complied with. All EU Member States must take responsibility to protect ground and surface water. And if they fail to do this, it is the duty of the European Commission to call them to account. It is very disappointing that the new European Commissioner for the Environment, Virginius Sinkevičius, is not clearer about this. In addition, the European Commission must stop approving agricultural pesticides and chemicals that may have harmful effects on humans, animals and the environment.'

Vewin: Better implementation of the Water Framework Directive is urgently needed

Vewin does not consider the Commission's response to be sufficient and stresses that more measures to improve the quality of drinking water sources are absolutely necessary. Vewin gathers from the Commission's reply that it is essential to implement the WFD more effectively, in particular when it comes to the protection of drinking water sources. The recent 'fitness check' of the WFD has already shown that little progress has been made in the area of protecting drinking water sources. For a better implementation, agreements will also have to be made with neighbouring countries to address cross-border pollution.
According to Vewin, the protection of drinking water sources must be given the highest priority in the international RBMPs, of which the latest version of measures to be implemented in the period 2022-2027 will be prepared this year. Earlier, the Lower House of the Dutch Parliament accepted a motion that calls for priority to be given in the new plans to drinking water sources.

EU legislation on pesticides must also offer better protection of drinking water sources

In addition, Vewin wants to use the evaluation and possible revision of European legislation on pesticides to achieve a concrete reduction in water pollution by pesticides. The Commission promises that the results of the evaluation will be available this spring. The forthcoming evaluation of the Directive on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides must stress the importance of drinking water sources and reduce the negative impact of pesticides.

More on Vewin's views on the Water Framework Directive and the Common Agricultural Policy can be found in the following papers: View on the Water Framework Directive (WFD)

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