EWA/VLARIO Spring Conference

Date 11.05.2023
Location Antwerp, Belgium

EWA/VLARIO Spring Conference: Urban Water Management: Challenges, Innovation and EU Requirement versus local needs and possibilities

On the 11th of May 2023, the EWA, together with VLARIO, successfully organised the “EWA-VLARIO Spring Conference: Urban Water Management: Challenges, Innovation and EU Requirement versus local needs and possibilities” in Antwerp, Belgium.

This event was divided in two sessions. The first one was focusing on the challenges and instruments of the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive proposal and the second one focussed on how innovation can be stimulated by this directive. Various speakers shared their point on views and among them several from the European Institutions, European Water association or European Universities.

During this conference, the new UWWTD proposal was explained to the participants and its new requirements and goals were discussed. We also discussed how innovation can be stimulated by this proposal. Some keys discussions points have been identified and to name a few, we heard about:

  • A transition toward a systemic approach with this new text as the first version of the directive was more focussing on a structural approach. This change toward systemic approach will only be successful if the policy makers are taking this mind-set as well.
  • A new focus on circular economy and energy neutrality with the new text. Ambition regarding energy neutrality is “very challenging”, depending on the precise definitions used in the proposal but it is achievable via a better sludge treatment, innovation and cooperation among all water actors
  • The importance of the Extended Polluter Responsibility. The EPR is fundamental for 3 main reasons: governance (will bring exchange between operators and polluters) – will support the budget that are now mainly public money – reinforcement of the polluter pay principal might push companies to reduce their pollution.
  • The storm water quality will be different in every city/collecting points as it is affected by local contexts (road quality, industrial one, gardening, pets and wildlife, drainage infrastructure and so on.
  • Digitalisation is one way to support the implementation of the directive in some ways (of course not all) and to reduce the costs for the operators as well as ensuring the new transparency requirement and involvement of the general public in the water sector.

All in all, this proposal is welcome by all actors of the water sectors but some question are still remaining opens. The proposal would need clarification on certain aspects such as how to successfully implement the energy neutrality objective while implementing the tertiary and quaternary treatment obligations. The local context of each plants is also playing a key role in the upcoming implementation of the new proposal and it should be linked with EU funds to insure the same water quality and access across Europe in big and small towns. Moreover, questions about the ambitious proposed timetable for implementation and the costs of the future investments have been discussed but we will need to wait for the final version of the text to discuss these topics further. All speakers believe that this proposal can be successfully implemented if we are first “very ambitious in the targets” of the proposal and creative in its implementation and if all actors in the sector are working together. Moreover, this proposal will push for the development of new infrastructures that will be there for the next hundreds years and therefore we need to be creative and to anticipate the future needs and requirements for the plants and the impact of the climate change according to several scenario.

As previously stated, this proposal was well received but water actors are still looking for clarification and we will have to wait for the final version of the text to see some of our questions answered.

You can find the program of the conference here.

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