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Environment
News article | 28 April 2021 | Directorate-General for Environment

Commission launches public consultation to update rules on urban wastewater

The Commission has today launched an online public consultation to seek views on the update of the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (UWWTD). Untreated wastewater can put human health and the environment at risk and pollute lakes, rivers, soil and coastal and groundwater. Under the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive, EU countries are required to ensure that urban wastewater is collected and treated appropriately.

This revision aims to address the shortcomings identified in the recent 2019 evaluation, and contribute to the aims of the European Green Deal, including the ambitions set out in the Circular Economy Action Plan, and the upcoming Zero Pollution Action Plan.

In this public consultation, stakeholders and civil society are invited to share their views on the various policy measures developed by the Commission over the past year, based on feedback and cooperation with Member States and stakeholders.

Measures address reducing pollution coming from storm water overflows, individual systems, and small agglomerations, as well as micro pollutants in wastewater (such as pharmaceuticals and micro plastics) and how to reduce them, including how to finance the costs related to advanced treatment. Other measures under consideration include reducing energy use in the wastewater sector, which represents 1% of all energy consumed in the EU, and greenhouse gas emissions. Revising the Directive is also an opportunity to update the requirements on monitoring, reporting and transparency to the latest standards.

Furthermore, the water sector (and in particular the wastewater sector), has played an important role during the Covid-19 pandemic. Wastewater surveillance can be used to track the pandemic and the spreading of the virus variants in the population. In March, the Commission adopted a Recommendation on monitoring COVID-19 and its variants in wastewaters in the EU. The aim of wastewater monitoring is to provide important complementary and independent information to aid with public health decision-making in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Commission will now consider whether this tool can be used more broadly in the future and if this can be integrated in the new Directive.

 

Background

The Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive requires Member States to ensure that their towns, cities and settlements properly collect and treat waste water. Untreated wastewater can be contaminated with harmful chemicals, bacteria and viruses and thus presents a risk to human health. It also contains nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous which can damage freshwaters and the marine environment by promoting excessive growth of algae that chokes other life, a process known as eutrophication.

In 2019, the European Commission evaluated the Directive. This evaluation found that the Directive had helped reduce the release of pollutants such as organic matter, nitrogen and phosphorus into the environment, thus improving the quality of EU water bodies, but that further implementation of the Directive is needed. The evaluation identified a number of issues, including a number of remaining sources of pollution.

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Directorate-General for Environment

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