European Commission sets out proposals for revision of the EU Drinking Water Directive

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Proposals for revision of the EU Drinking Water Directive have been put forward by the European Commission. The proposals aim to guarantee access for all to good quality water, to help improve confidence in drinking water and so reduce use of bottled water, and add water quality requirements for new and emerging substances.

Preparations for the proposals have included ‘Right2Water’, which the Commission describes as ‘the first-ever successful European Citizens’ Initiative’. It says this gathered 1.6 million signatures in support of improved access to safe drinking water for all Europeans.

This aspect of the proposal reflects the recognition of access to safe drinking water as a human right. According to the Commission, the new rules will require EU Member States to improve access for all people, especially for vulnerable and marginalised groups who currently have difficulty accessing drinking water. It says that in practice this will mean setting up equipment for access to drinking water in public spaces, launching campaigns to inform citizens about the quality of their water, and encouraging administrations and public buildings to provide access to drinking water.

The proposals aim to give the public easy access to user-friendly information about the quality and supply of drinking water in their area. The Commission says this should include information on the cost structure, including the price per litre, with the aim of allowing a clearer price comparison with bottled water. It also says that better access to information can also improve confidence in tap water.

The rule changes put forward will also improve water quality and safety by adding new and emerging substances to the list of criteria for determining water safety, including legionella and chlorate. The Commission says the additions take account of the latest scientific knowledge and recommendations of the World Health Organisation.

In a statement released by the Commission, First Vice-President Frans Timmermans is quoted as saying: ‘Citizens have made their voice loud and clear through the European Citizens’ Initiative, calling for action to have a guaranteed access to safe drinking water. We have heard and heeded their call and carried out a thorough analysis of our existing legislation.’

Also in the statement, Vice-President Jyrki Katainen, responsible for growth, jobs, investment and competitiveness, commented: ‘With this proposal we facilitate the transition to a circular economy, helping Member States manage drinking water in a resource-efficient manner. It implies reduction of energy use and unnecessary water loss.’

According to the Commission, lower consumption of bottled water can help households in Europe save more than €600 million per year. It says that with improved confidence in tap water, citizens can also contribute to reducing plastic waste from bottled water, including marine litter, and says therefore that the revision of the directive helps in the implementation of the EU’s Plastics Strategy.

The Commission adds that better management of drinking water will avoid unnecessary loss of water and contribute to a lower carbon dioxide footprint. It says the proposal will therefore make a meaningful contribution to reaching the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (Goal 6) and the Paris Agreement objectives on climate change.

Responding to the release of the proposal, Arjen Frentz, chair of the Committee on Drinking Water of European water suppliers association EurEau, commented: ‘Protecting drinking water resources protects all of us, not just today, but for the future too. The Commission proposal to implement an EU-wide risk-based approach is a first important step, as it includes the whole supply chain from catchment to tap.’

EurEau highlighted that the proposal contains numerous revised quality parameters for drinking water, and that there is a discrepancy between the Commission’s proposals and the recommendations of the World Health Organisation to include and/or delete quality parameters. EurEau says that it will assess the Commission’s reasoning as well as the technological feasibility and financial implications of these.

EurEau commented in its statement released in response to the Commission proposals that the Commission has missed the opportunity to propose a Europe-wide approval scheme for products and materials used in contact with drinking water. It said that setting hygienic requirements in the new directive, together with technical aspects of the Construction Products Regulation, would go a long way to protecting health and the free movement of goods in Europe.


  • Europe, water supply, drinking water treatment