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Water Reuse - An Action Plan within the circular economy

On 2 December 2015, the European Commission presented the new circular economy package. In particular, it committed to develop a number of actions to promote further uptake of water reuse at EU level. These actions will focus on overcoming the main barriers to the untapped potential for water reuse wherever it is cost-efficient and safe for health and the environment as identified in the policy context. The following Action Plan details the initiatives the Commission intends to develop in 2016-2017:

1) Reuse in integrated water planning and management

Water reuse can be better integrated in water planning management. It should be more systematically considered by Member States in implementation of EU water legislation, e.g. as a measure to address water scarcity and achieve good status under the Water Framework Directive, and in the investment in the treatment of effluent as required by the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive. For this purpose guidelines on Integrating Water Reuse into Water Planning and Management in the context of the WFD were developed by the Commission, Member States and stakeholders, within the Common Implementation Strategy of the WFD. These guidelines were published in July 2016. Based on existing practice in the EU and third countries, they contain recommendations on how to better integrate water reuse in water planning and management within the EU policy framework and taking into account underlying environmental and socio-economic benefits.

2) Minimum quality requirements for water reuse in irrigation and aquifer recharge

One of the main barriers to a wider reuse of wastewater is represented by the lack of a coherent and comprehensive legislative framework within the EU. Several Member States developed their own standards, which often differ from one another, creating potential difficulties in trade of agricultural products for example. Lack of understanding of actual benefits and risks has led to distrust among the general public and over-precautionary approaches (e.g. ban on reused water for aquifer recharge). For this reason the Commission will propose in 2018 legislation on minimum requirements for water reuse in irrigation and aquifer recharge. An Inception Impact Assessment of this initiative has been published which sets out in greater detail the background, the policy objectives and options as well as their likely impacts. The technical proposal is under development by the Joint Research Centre and was consulted with the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) and with the independent Scientific Committee on Health, Environmental and Emerging Risks (SCHEER).

A public consultation on policy options to set minimum quality requirements for reused water in the European Union was launched on 28 October 2016 until 27 January 2017. It aimed at collecting additional information and evidence and giving the possibility to a broad range of stakeholders to provide views, feedback and perceptions on how the minimum quality requirements for reused water in the European Union should be set. The report on this public consultation was published in May 2017.

3) Water reuse in industrial activities

Industrial water reuse is already a common practice in many sectors. The Commission will look into further integration of water reuse in the development and review of:

Best Available Techniques Reference Documents (BREFs) under the scope of the Industrial Emissions Directive (2010/75/EU)

Sectoral Reference Documents on best environmental management practice (BEMP) as part of the EU Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS)

for relevant sectors.

4) Support to research and innovation in water reuse

Numerous aspects regarding potential reuse and the associated wastewater treatment process continue to be the object of research and innovation. Improvement of treatment facilities, development of smart technologies, and reduction in energy consumption are just some of the issues to be supported in this area. Within the European Innovation Partnership (EIP) on Water, several action groups set up in recent years address water reuse, such as: Industrial Water Reuse and Recycling (InDuRe), Water & Irrigated agriculture Resilient Europe (WIRE), Real Time Water Quality Monitoring (RTWQM), Verdygo - modular & sustainable wastewater treatment. These action groups have been supporting several research and innovation projects on water reuse in different parts of the EU and water reuse will remain a priority for the EIP on Water in the coming years.

The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) can also offer funding opportunities for innovations in water reuse, if those are in line with the smart specialisation strategies of Member States and regions.

The Commission also launched specific calls on water issues under the new Horizon 2020 work programme, which includes water reuse in the circular economy topics.

Innovation in water reuse can also be supported by LIFE (Programme for the Environment and Climate Action) which, for example, offers the possibility to investigate in depth and develop pilot projects in this field.

Water reuse is subject to the first Innovation Deal signed in 2017. This voluntary cooperation between the European Commission and 14 partners from national and regional authorities, universities, knowledge centres, innovators and end-users addresses existing regulatory barriers to innovation in this sector.

5) EU funds for investments in water reuse

EU funding for water reuse infrastructure is already available under the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the Cohesion Fund (CF) and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EARDF). The Commission will encourage Member States to use these opportunities and prioritise water reuse investments in their Operational Programmes. As an example, water reuse is included in the Thematic Guidance Fiche on Water Management as a key priority for investments in the water sector and action of high European added value for the ERDF and the CF. Investments in water reuse infrastructure can also be eligible for the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI).