The blueprint for water

Steve Nixon reports on UK water industry efforts to translate the EU’s Blueprint for Water into action.

In November 2012 the European Commission published its Blueprint to Safeguard Europe’s Water Resources with the long-term (up to 2050) aim of securing the availability of good quality water for sustainable and equitable use. The blueprint was based on an extensive fitness check of current European water policy instruments, the Commission’s report on implementation of the first Water Framework Directive (WFD) river basin management plans and a review of the European Water Scarcity and Droughts Policy. The key themes identified in the blueprint include improving land use management, addressing water pollution, and increasing water efficiency and resilience. A number of actions (voluntary and through regulation) are proposed for the achievement of these objectives.

WRc has been intimately involved over the past three years in the studies supporting the development of the blueprint – in particular through provision of technical support and expertise to the Commission on key aspects of implementing the WFD.
More recently, the Commission has published the work programme for the WFD common implementation strategy for 2013-15, which carries forward the recommendations from the blueprint. A number of actions, activities and deliverables are of interest and relevance to the water industry. Deliverables include guidance that provides a common understanding of what is required by the WFD with examples of “best practice”. This can be followed or implemented on a voluntary basis by member states. Other actions are seen as leading to regulatory proposals which, if adopted, will be mandatory on all member states.
Tackling pollution from chemicals. Further action is required on chemical pollution with a strategic approach to be developed addressing the risks from pharmaceutical substances.

Water abstractions: Ofwat intends to introduce for PR14 new, targeted incentives to encourage efficient water trading, both for sellers and buyers of water. An “abstraction incentive mechanism” is proposed for locations where the risk of environmental damage from over-abstraction is greatest. Water companies would be rewarded for abstracting less water where water abstractions have an impact and encourage abstractions from where there is no impact. The Commission envisages that guidance on water trading schemes could be produced for interested member states in 2015. There is an opportunity for the water industry and its environmental regulators to contribute to this work and also to benefit from the experiences of others in this area.

Leakage: Ofwat requires water companies to operate at the sustainable economic level of leakage (SELL). The Commission is set to work with the EU water industry to accelerate the development and spread of best practices on SELL, particularly in terms of adapting to climate change and potentially scarcer water resources. The experience of the UK water industry and Ofwat could provide a significant contribution to this work.

Water efficiency: Another action is to develop a common EU methodology for setting water efficiency targets for river basins (of relevance to catchment management schemes).

Water re-use: Re-use of water is limited in the EU. The Commission aims to look into the most suitable EU-level instrument to encourage water re-use, including the possibility of a regulation in 2015.
Innovation: The European Innovation Partnership on Water (EIP) has been established by the Commission to encourage and facilitate innovation.

Catchment management schemes: Ofwat supported the catchment management approach in the price review of 2009 and is committed to the principle for PR14. The Commission is working to develop guidance (by 2014) for integrating the ecosystems services concept developed by UKWIR into the different stages of the WFD and the Floods Directive, which is of direct relevance to the application of catchment management.

The UK water industry should learn from, and contribute its expertise and experience to, the actions arising from the blueprint. Though many actions involve the development of voluntary guidance, benefit may be obtained from learning lessons from others with particular experience and by contributing to a common understanding. This will be particularly important if guidance subsequently leads to the framing of mandatory regulations.

Steve Nixon, senior technical specialist, WRc
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