On April 22, we celebrate Earth Day, on which we remind you how fragile the ecosystem of our planet is and how important it is to care for its resources, including water. The Drinking Water Directive introduces new requirements for the Member States of the European Union regarding the quality of the water in the water supply network through which it reaches our homes. Thanks to investments for tap water, we will not only be able to drink water straight from the tap, but also introduce less plastic into the environment.
The directive responds to the citizens' initiative 'Right2Water' to improve access to safe drinking water for all Europeans, supported by the signatures of over 1.8 million people. This is the first European Citizens' Initiative to have received a positive response from the European Commission, a guarantee of the regulatory fitness and efficiency of its provisions (REFIT)[i] and led to the creation of a document of such importance. The provisions of the directive oblige the EU Member States to implement three basic goals:
guaranteeing water and sanitation for everyone in Europe;
- no liberalization of water services;
- universal access to water and sewage;
- We are already working today to ensure the appropriate quality and quantity of water in the country.
Proper management and use of water resources are a key element of their protection. In Poland, over 70% of water used to supply the general society comes from underground intakes, the rest are surface intakes
- water drawn from rivers, reservoirs and lakes. Annually, we stop only about 7 percent of the average annual water runoff to the Baltic Sea. Thanks to technical and non-technical activities, we increase the available resources, i.e., the retention capacity of individual catchments. In order to guarantee the appropriate quantity and quality of waters, including those used to provide people with drinking water, we must slow down the runoff of rainwater through retaining measures. For example, by building water reservoirs that can act as a reservoir of drinking water, or by using ecosystem services - wetlands and waterside buffer zones - in the process of self-purification of water. Investments to improve wastewater treatment options, carried out by local governments under the National Program for Municipal Wastewater Treatment
, are also one of the most important measures to improve the quality of water, also being a source of drinking water.
Tap water consumers will benefit from the new regulations
The Drinking Water Directive contains a number of legal guidelines and quality requirements that must be met before water is fed into the water supply system, e.g., those relating to the water treatment process. They also order the implementation of new technologies for its treatment, replacing, for example, the used chemical disinfection with ultraviolet radiation disinfection and the installation of UV lamps that destroy pathogenic organisms. This is essential, especially in the context of protecting human health. The more that it may be exposed to damage due to waste that ends up in sewage, e.g. personal hygiene products, antibiotics, hormonal drugs or microplastic, the presence of which has already been observed in groundwater.
Although the supply and treatment of drinking water is the responsibility of local governments through water and sewage companies acting on their behalf, and sanitary standards in this respect are set by the Minister of Health, the role of Polish Waters in ensuring the best quality and quantity of water resources is very important, especially in planning activities. By participating in public consultations of the 2nd update of water management plans - IIaPGW, each of us has an impact on the shape of solutions on which the quality of drinking water[ii] depends. Remember that the condition of surface and groundwater in our country has an impact on the quality of tap water. The better the quality of the water drawn from the intakes, the lower the cost of its treatment by water and sewage companies and the more money in our wallets. More about water management plans can be found on: www.apgw.gov.pl.
New - a list of substances that may affect human health
By early 2022, Member States will receive lists of substances and compounds with social or scientific concerns for human health. The new Directive also introduces hygiene requirements for materials that come into contact with drinking water, such as pipes. The idea is to improve the quality of these materials and thus protect human health and prevent pollution.
Circular economy and water consumption
The revision of the directive's provisions is also part of the circular economy transition plan, which will help Member States manage drinking water in an economical and sustainable way. This will help to reduce energy consumption and unnecessary water loss. A very important goal is also to increase the confidence of European citizens in tap water, especially as drinking water, which will result in a reduction in the use of water in plastic bottles, which also has a huge positive environmental effect.
Do you drink tap water? You are taking care of your wallet and the environment
According to data from the European Commission, one person in the EU consumes an estimated 106 liters of bottled water per year. Meanwhile, the partial abandonment of bottled water would mean annual savings for households amounting to a total of EUR 600 million. The provisions of the Directive clearly state that tap water should be edible and should be encouraged to do so. Therefore, Member States will also be required to ensure access to drinking water in public buildings, and customers in restaurants, canteens and catering services should receive drinking water for free or at a low cost.
On guard of water prices
Prices for water supply and sewage disposal are set by water and sewage companies. Every three years, enterprises submit proposals for these prices to Polish Waters in the tariff application, and PGW Polish Waters, after detailed analyses, may issue a decision approving or rejecting the tariff application. The role of the regulatory authority[iii] is to verify the proposed prices and rates in terms of adequacy to the costs of providing services incurred by enterprises. There are costs that significantly affect the amount of fees for water and sewage collection, which cannot be questioned by Polish Waters, but at the same time must take into account the need to protect citizens against unjustified increases. Currently, new tariff applications are submitted to the Polish Waters, proposed by water and sewage companies. After their approval, the new rates for water supply and sewage disposal will apply for the next 3 years.
Directive 2020/2184 on the quality of drinking water includes new guidelines that update drinking water quality standards and provide for a cost-effective and risk-based approach to water quality monitoring. Their introduction takes time and care, and Member States have two years to take the necessary measures to implement them. Meeting the requirements of the new directive in the water and sewage management sector will mean further investments, with the possibility of financing them from EU funds. It will be possible on the basis of the national financial plan prepared by the Ministry of Infrastructure as part of the development of an investment program in the field of improving the quality and limiting losses of water intended for human consumption.
[i]The Commission's Regulatory Fitness and Performance Program (REFIT) aims to ensure that EU legislation benefits citizens and businesses in an effective, efficient and cost-effective manner. REFIT aims to simplify EU law, remove unnecessary burdens and adapt existing legislation without prejudice to policy objectives. The European Commission provides an annual overview of the results of its simplification efforts.
[ii] River basin management plans define environmental objectives for bodies of surface and groundwater throughout the country. Water bodies from which drinking water is obtained are subject to additional protection, the purpose of which is to ensure that the treatment of water taken from them is reduced to a minimum or unnecessary.
[iii] Amendment to the Act of July 20, 2017 - Water Law (i.e., Journal of Laws of 2020, item 310, as amended) and the Act of June 7, 2001 on collective water supply and collective sewage disposal (Journal of Laws of 2020, item 2028, as amended) established a new price regulator for collective water supply and collective sewage disposal services, which is the locally competent director of the regional water management board of PGW Polish Waters. The President of Polish Waters acts in relation to him as a higher authority within the meaning of the provisions of the Administrative Procedure Code.