CEEP Opinion “A strategic approach to pollution in the context of the upcoming evaluation of EU Water Legislation” - PDF

Executive summary

  • Precaution is the fundamental principle of drinking water legislation: The current Drinking Water Directive (DWD) is centered on a health-based understanding of water quality as opposed to a mere technical assessment of parametric values and based on precaution as the leading regulatory principle. Any revision needs to maintain and strengthen this focus to preserve the high level of quality currently provided to citizens and preserve raw water resources for future generations.
  • Polluters need to be held responsible for the damage they cause: Currently, the responsibility to ascertain low pollution of drinking water and the necessary resources lies almost exclusively with the water and sewage utilities. This “end-of-pipe” arrangement is both counter-productive and unsustainable: It leads to an externalization of the cost of pollution while the polluter is not taken into account, disincentivising any efforts to improve the situation. A stringent application of the “polluter pays” – principle throughout the value chain, including financial contributions by polluters as well as preventive and other measures is thus crucial to ensure a fair retribution of costs and the long-term sustainability of water services
  • EU-water legislation should provide comprehensive protection from the source onwards: The existing legislative framework encompasses a series of distinct directives designed to archive the same ends, thus offering a great potential for a comprehensive protection of “later-to be” drinking water at the source. Yet they are often not complementary, making a coherent implementation difficult. Improving overall coherence between the different elements of EU water legislation should thus be a priority during the upcoming or ongoing evaluation exercises, including but not limited to an alignment of relevant thresholds and taking into account not only individual pollutants, but also specific combinations thereof.
  • Poor implementation and enforcement hinders good policy outcome: Incomplete or delayed implementation at Member State level is one of the major causes of pollution. Correct implementation and stringent enforcement at all levels of government should thus be made a priority by Member States. In case of non-compliance the EU-Commission should make more frequent use of disciplinary measures, especially if violation of duties under EU legislation continues over longer periods of time.
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