There are nine major challenges ahead for Europe’s drinking water and waste water operators. Long term thinking should mix with technological innovation



By Dr Claudia Castell-Exner and Carl-Emil Larsen, EurEau Vice Presidents


Water is the most important shared resource. EurEau is fully committed to the continuous supply of clean water and the safe return of treated waste water into the water cycle.

Our members actively protect water resources by providing and implementing solutions to water pollution and scarcity, delivering public health and economic growth, and ensuring the continuous supply of high quality water now and for future generations.

We see nine challenges at the core of our work in protecting this precious natural resource while performing sustainable, innovative and reliable water services.


  1. Protecting a vulnerable resource with funding and good governance

Safe drinking water at the tap and waste water treatment are essential for human health. Surface and groundwater quality is vital for all water operators, regardless of where they are so that they can deliver high quality water services to customers.

Almost everything we do affects either the quantity or the quality of water resources. Water resources protection and management need to be considered in other policy areas.

In particular, water protection measures should be integrated and implemented in relevant European policies such as the Common Agricultural Policy, energy policy and European chemical legislation as well as tourism and recreational policies. EU water legislation features many success stories but a lot remains to be done in order to ensure that our water resources are effectively protected. Appropriate funding and good governance are key factors in meeting this objective.


  1. Fostering sustainable economic growth and creating jobs

Water services directly employ around 542.000 people in Europe. Across the sector, we invest €36bn annually to maintaining and renewing the water infrastructure and we have an annual turnover of €82bn.

Our sector is stable and employment in it has been constant despite the economic and financial crisis because jobs cannot be delocalised.

We will continue to need people with appropriate skills in maintenance, engineering, research and development and a host of other areas. We also give people the opportunity to work with us through apprenticeships, traineeships and numerous training programmes.


  1. The value of water in the circular economy

Waste water contains valuable resources such as energy, phosphorus, nitrogen and other nutrients that can be recovered and reused in a circular economy. European legislation should be a driver for innovation and allow for the development of good practices to recover these resources. Incentives to channel recovered resources into the market for secondary materials, in a sustainable manner, should be put in place.


  1. Source control approach for micropollutants

Micropollutants originating from substances such as pharmaceuticals, veterinary drugs, personal hygiene products or household chemicals, microplastics, nanoparticles and pesticides may represent a risk for water resources. As their use increases, micropollutants pose a challenge for water resources and for water operators once they enter the water cycle. In line with the Precautionary Principle and the EU treaties, pollution should be prevented and controlled as much as possible at the source rather than applying unsustainable end-of-pipe solutions.


  1. Setting the right price for water services to maintain infrastructure

The price that consumers pay for water services must strike the right balance between the affordability of the services and the need to recover the cost for water services while ensuring the necessary investments to build, maintain and renew the infrastructure. We support greater transparency of water bills so that customers can understand the real costs of supplying drinking water and collecting and treating waste water.


  1. Growing impact of climate change on water

Extreme weather events are becoming more frequent. Floods and droughts are regular occurrences. Water managers should develop measures to improve the resilience of water supply and waste water systems. The water sector is ready to be more ambitious, set targets and apply innovative solutions for climate change adaptation. We need to work together, developing a holistic, cross-societal approach to deal with it.


  1. Resource efficiency in the water sector

Responsible use, appropriate allocation and efficient delivery are fundamental to ensuring the best use of a scarce resource. Water operators endeavour to be more energy efficient, use chemical substances wisely in treatment processes and recover nutrients and energy to be as sustainable as possible.


  1. Managing long term assets in a fast-changing environment with innovative ideas

Traditionally, water services look at the long term when planning and constructing their waterworks, distribution networks, collection systems and treatment plants. Some parts of the water infrastructure last for 50 years or more. The water sector has to balance its long term thinking with an appropriate level of flexibility, allowing infrastructure to be responsive and adapt to a fast-changing environment and innovative solutions.


  1. Increasing the public understanding of the water sector

The water sector must continue to engage with our customers and other stakeholders to ensure there is a greater understanding of the many ways that water matters. Customer and stakeholder engagement are fundamental to achieving an understanding of mutual priorities and needs.


You can read more about EurEau and the challenges of Europe’s water sector, as well as our solutions at




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