9 big challenges 
for the water sector in the next 10 years!

1. Protecting a vulnerable resource
Safe drinking water at the tap and waste water treatment are prerequisite for human health. Water quality – surface water and ground water quality – is of eminent importance for  the European water industry that is committed to deliver high quality water services to European citizens.

It is hard to think of any economic activity and daily consumers’ behaviours that do not somehow affect either the quantity or the quality of water resources. Water resources protection and management need to be mainstreamed into other sectorial policies. In particular, water protection measures should be integrated and implemented in relevant European policies such as the common agricultural policy, the energy policy and the European chemical legislation (REACH, rules governing the authorisation of pesticides, biocides and pharmaceutical products) as well as the tourism and recreational activities policies. Although the EU water legislation features many success stories, yet a lot remains to be done in order to ensure that European water resources are effectively protected. Appropriate funding and good governance are key factors in meeting this objective. 

 

2. Fostering sustainable economic growth and creating jobs 
Water services are net contributors in terms of added value and employment. The total gross value added (GVA) of the water sector (collection, treatment, supply and sewerage) reached €43,84 billion, that is 0,35% of the total EU28 value added, in 2010. 

In the past ten years the employment levels in the water sector have remained rather stable. This represents a major strength of the sector and highlights its stabilising role in periods of economic crisis and recession, since jobs cannot be delocalised. The water sector employs 500,000 people in the EU28, without counting the number of jobs created indirectly by water supply and sanitation in fields such as construction, research and technology development. 

An improved competitiveness of the European water sector worldwide will also contribute to the creation of jobs and growth in Europe as water services are also sources of technological and organisational innovation to be exported to non-EU countries. 

Looking at the future, the water services will have to secure the development of appropriate skills and opportunities for young professionals in the water sector through apprenticeships, traineeships and training programmes.        

 

3. The value of water in the circular economy
Waste water contains valuable resources such as energy, phosphorus, nitrogen and other nutrients that can be recovered and reused in a circular economy with the aim to foster economic growth and job creation. European legislation should be a driver for innovation and allow for the development of good practices to recover these resources. Incentives to channel recovered resources into the market, in a sustainable manner, should be put in place.

 

4. Source-control approach for micropollutants
Micropollutants originating from the use of substances such as pharmaceutical products for human use, veterinary drugs, personal hygiene products or household chemicals, microplastics (from textiles, car tires etc.), nano-particles and pesticides may represent a risk for water resources. Although observed concentrations are currently very low and there is no scientific evidence of adverse effects on human health, as their use increases, micropollutants might represent a challenge for water resources and for water services once they enter the water cycle. In line with the precautionary principle and the EU Treaties, pollution should be prevented and controlled as much as possible at the source rather than applying unsustainable end-of-pipe solutions. 

 

5. Setting the right price for water services
The price consumers pay for water services must strike the right balance between the affordability of the services, on one hand, and the need to recover the cost for water services and ensure the necessary investments to build, maintain and renew the infrastructure on the other. 

Against this scenario, the water sector supports greater transparency of the water bills so that customers will be able to understand the real costs of supplying drinking water and treating waste water.

In fact, while affordability of water services is crucial to realise the human right to water and sanitation, if the price for water services is artificially low, the costs of maintaining the infrastructure will have to be covered through taxes or subsidies or further postponed to future generations. The path to the sustainability of water sector is essential for a sustainable development of our societies as shown by the post-2015 UN agenda.

 

6. Growing impact of climate change on water 
Extreme weather events are becoming more frequent. Floods and droughts are regular occurrences in Europe. 

Climate change remains a serious challenge for the water sector that will have to minimise the impacts and enact mitigation and adaptation measures, while controlling costs. It is therefore essential that the water sector’s efforts are coordinated, wherever possible, with other sectors’ mitigation and adaptation measures with the support of EU and national policies.

 

7. Resource efficiency in the water sector
Responsible use, appropriate allocation and efficient delivery of water are fundamental to ensure an efficient use of a scarce resource. Water services are making a lot of efforts to be more energy efficient and use wisely chemical substances in water treatment in order to be as sustainable as possible in their operations. 

 

8. Managing long-term assets in a fast changing environment
Traditionally water services look at the long term when planning and constructing their water works, distribution networks, collection systems and treatment plants. Some parts of the water infrastructure last for 50 years or more. The water sector has to balance its long-term thinking with an appropriate level of flexibility, allowing infrastructure to be responsive and adapt to a fast changing environment and innovative solutions.

 

9. Increasing the public understanding of the water sector 
The water sector must continue to engage effectively with its customers and the other stakeholders to ensure there is a greater understanding of the many ways water matters. Customers’ and stakeholders’ engagement are fundamental in order to achieve an understanding of mutual priorities and needs.  

 

 

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