Sven Giegold
Member of the European Parliament – Greens/EFA Group

Speaker of the German Green Delegation

EU Drinking Water Directive: Clean water for the whole EU

The first successful European citizens’ initiative “Right2Water” for EU-wide access to clean drinking water becomes European law. Today (Tuesday, December 15), the President of the Parliament announced the European Parliament’s approval of the outcome of negotiations on the EU Drinking Water Directive (“Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the quality of water intended for human consumption”). This means that everything is finally wrapped up. In future, stricter limits will apply to lead and, for the first time, to endocrine disruptors such as bisphenol A in drinking water. All ofEurope will gain free access to drinking water in public places through the provision of water dispensers. And: measures against water leakages through damaged pipes.

Sven Giegold, Greens/EFA shadow rapporteur for the Drinking Water Directive, comments:

“The decision for Europe-wide clean drinking water is a great success for civil society. We owe it to the European Citizens’ Initiative that our drinking water will be cleaner in the future. It is the biggest reform of European drinking water rules in more than 20 years. The Drinking Water Directive now enforces the human right to clean drinking water in Europe.”

“For the first time, limit values for endocrine disruptors and stricter values for lead will make tap water cleaner. It is a huge step forward that all of Europe will have public drinking water dispensers in the future. Public drinking water dispensers are an important building block for sustainable and resource-conserving consumption. This enables a freedom to consume less: less plastic, less waste, less material consumption while still having just as healthy water. Many people will no longer have to buy bottled drinking water, but can switch to tap water.”

“Europe establishes important consumer rights for the first time and creates transparency for all citizens when it comes to water. Utilities will have to disclose their water leakages, ownership and cost structure for the first time.”

“Today’s decision is a major step forward for citizen engagement. The European Parliament has long fought for better access to drinking water, stricter limits and improved consumer rights. Now it is up to all member states to implement the directive. The public water dispensers that are now mandatory must be installed quickly.”

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Background information

The text adopted today will be published here soon: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/A-9-2020-0241_EN.html

Link to our background briefing: https://sven-giegold.de/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Media-briefing-Drinking-water-19.12.2019.pdf

Summary of the new rules:

Access to drinking water

The European Parliament and the Council have agreed to include improving access to drinking water in the objectives of the Directive (Article 1). The Member States are now required to improve access to clean drinking water for all Europeans. These provisions are largely based on proposals by the European Parliament. One of these instruments is the construction of public water dispensers, which must be available to all citizens. This core demand of the Parliament, against which the Council of Member States has long resisted, will lead to new rules in many Member States, where the construction of public water dispensers is not yet required by law.

Parameters/limit values for hazardous substances

In the negotiations, the European Parliament reduced the limit values for essential parameters (e.g. lead) and introduced new limit values for substances hazardous to health such as Bisphenol-A (BPA) on the basis of a study by the World Health Organisation and taking account of the precautionary principle. The new Drinking Water Directive will thus ensure better health protection for all citizens throughout Europe.

  • Lead: Lead is harmful to health even in the smallest doses. It is by far the substance with the greatest negative health effects in the Drinking Water Directive. For this reason, the limit value in the supply system has now been halved to 5 micrograms per litre. This reduction was a core demand of the European Parliament and was opposed by the member states for a long time.
  • Endocrine disruptors: For the first time, the new Directive will protect consumers against endocrine disruptors in drinking water. Parliament was able to push through a limit value for Bisphenol-A on the initiative of the Greens/EFA Group. Water suppliers must now measure Bisphenol-A in drinking water and ensure that the limit value is not exceeded.
  • Microplastics: Microplastics will be on a new watch list. This success of the European Parliament allows Member States to take preventive measures to reduce microplastics if suppliers find too much microplastics in the drinking water.
  • PFAS: Perfluorinated alkylated substances (PFAS) are a group of about 4700 industrial chemicals that do not occur in the environment. PFAS are also called “forever chemicals” because they do not degrade in the environment or in the human body. The new Drinking Water Directive introduces for the first time a limit value for the 20 most important of the approximately 4700 different substances. Over the next three years, the Commission is to develop a method for measuring all PFAS.

Consumer information

At the urging of Parliament, water suppliers must for the first time annually inform their customers at least once a year about:

  • The water quality, including the latest microbiological and chemical parameters measured, and general information on the production, treatment and disinfection of water
  • Information on possible hazards if limit values are exceeded.
  • The price of the water per litre and cubic metre
  • The amount consumed per household and the annual trend
  • A comparison with an average household
  • The catchment area of the supplier and the number of consumers
  • Advice on the reduction of water consumption and the reduction of risks caused by stagnant water

Large companies that produce more than 10,000m³ of drinking water per day or supply more than 50,000 people have to provide additional information on:

  • Ownership structure of the water supply
  • Cost structure including allocation between variable and fixed costs
  • water leakages
  • summaries of consumer complaints

Leakages

Across the EU, around a quarter of all drinking water never reaches the consumers. In five years at the latest, at least all major water suppliers that produce more than 10,000m³ of drinking water per day or supply more than 50,000 people must have measured the leakages for the first time. The Commission then calculates a threshold value on the basis of the water losses reported by the Member States. In Member States above the threshold, measures must be taken to reduce water losses.

Materials in contact with drinking water

To date, there are no uniform rules throughout Europe that would determine which materials can or cannot come into contact with drinking water for health reasons. Parliament and Council have decided that a positive list of all materials and substances that may come into contact with drinking water will be drawn up in the coming years. Substances on this list must be regularly checked for their health risks. Only substances that do not pose a risk to health may end up on the positive list. Materials that are not on the list must not be used in drinking water pipes. This innovation will reduce health risks for consumers. At the same time, harmonised European rules will reduce unnecessary bureaucracy and save costs for manufacturers and their customers.