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The revised Drinking Water Directive

On 16 December 2020, the European Parliament formally adopted the revised Drinking Water Directive. The Directive will enter in force on 12 January 2021, and Member States will have two years to transpose it into national legislation.

The Drinking Water Directive 98/83/EC overview

The Drinking Water Directive (Council Directive 98/83/EC of 3 November 1998 on the quality of water intended for human consumption) concerns the quality of water intended for human consumption. Its objective is to protect human health from adverse effects of any contamination of water intended for human consumption by ensuring that it is wholesome and clean.

The consolidated text of the Directive with its latest amendments including Commission Directive (EU) 2015/1787 of 6 October 2015 can be found in the Directory of European Union consolidated legislation.

The Drinking Water Directive applies to:

  • all distribution systems serving more than 50 people or supplying more than 10 cubic meter per day, but also distribution systems serving less than 50 people/supplying less than 10 cubic meter per day if the water is supplied as part of an economic activity;
  • drinking water from tankers;
  • drinking water in bottles or containers;
  • water used in the food-processing industry, unless the competent national authorities are satisfied that the quality of the water cannot affect the wholesomeness of the foodstuff in its finished form.

The Drinking Water Directive doesn't apply to:

  • natural mineral waters recognised as such by the competent national authorities, in accordance with Council Directive 80/777/EEC of 15 July 1980 on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to the exploitation and marketing of natural mineral waters and repealed by Directive 2009/54/EC of 18 June 2009 on the exploitation and marketing of natural mineral waters; and
  • waters which are medicinal products within the meaning of Council Directive 65/65/EEC of 26 January 1965 on the approximation of provisions laid down by law, regulation or administrative action relating to medicinal products and repealed by Directive 2001/83/EC of 6 November 201 on the Community code relating to medicinal products for human use.

The Directive laid down the essential quality standards at EU level. A total of 48 microbiological, chemical and indicator parameters must be monitored and tested regularly. In general, World Health Organization's guidelines for drinking water and the opinion of the Commission's Scientific Advisory Committee are used as the scientific basis for the quality standards in the drinking water.

When translating the Drinking Water Directive into their own national legislation, Member States of the European Union can include additional requirements e.g. regulate additional substances that are relevant within their territory or set higher standards. Member States are not allowed, nevertheless, to set lower standards as the level of protection of human health should be the same within the whole European Union.

Member States may, for a limited time depart from chemical quality standards specified in the Directive (Annex I). This process is called "derogation". Derogations can be granted, provided it does not constitute a potential danger to human health and provided that the supply of water intended for human consumption in the area concerned cannot be maintained by any other reasonable means.

The Directive also requires providing regular information to consumers. In addition, drinking water quality has to be reported to the European Commission every three years. The scope of reporting is set out in the Directive. The Commission assesses the results of water quality monitoring against the standards in the Drinking Water Directive and after each reporting cycle produces a synthesis report, which summarizes the quality of drinking water and its improvement at a European level.

Further principles laid in the Directive are:

In accordance with the provisions of Article 14 of the Directive, the deadline was November 2003 for the 15 Member States which were part of the EU before 2004 (EU-15) to have taken the measures necessary to ensure that the quality of water intended for human consumption complies with the Directive. New Member States had to comply with the Directive by the day of accession unless specific implementation deadlines were laid down in the Accession Treaties.