European Commission develops guidelines for using treated wastewater to irrigate farms

European Commission develops guidelines for using treated wastewater to irrigate farms
Credit: Belga

With water shortages affecting over one-tenth of the EU population and many countries facing longer periods of drought, the European Commission has developed a set of guidelines for using treated wastewater to irrigate farms and gardens.

Water resources are under pressure and “we need to stop wasting water and use this resource more efficiently to adapt to the changing climate and ensure the security and sustainability of our agricultural supply,” says the European Commissioner for the Environment, Virginijus Sinkevicius.

Many European countries will have to deal with (longer) periods of drought, according to the Commission. Currently, water shortages affect 11 percent of the population in the EU, but the situation is more worrying in some countries, especially in the Mediterranean area. Almost half of the population there has to deal with water scarcity in the summer.

According to the Commission, droughts and water shortages are likely to become more frequent and severe in the future. One way to combat the shortages is to reuse treated wastewater for irrigation in agriculture and horticulture, for example.

Currently, 40 billion cubic meters (m3) of wastewater are treated annually in the EU. Of this, only 964 million m3 are reused. Yet there are also countries, within and outside the EU, where the reuse of wastewater is already established, such as Israel, Australia and Singapore.

In the EU, France is one of the better examples, with a reuse rate of 7.7 million m3 per year, but as a whole, the EU is well below its capabilities, the European Commission feels.

The Commission now has a regulatory framework in place to help reuse more than six billion m3 of water annually within the EU by 2025. The EU also has a regulation, which will be applicable from June 2023, containing quality requirements and rules for the safe reuse of water.

In addition to this, the Commission has proposed to review EU legislation on industrial wastewater and urban wastewater treatment in order to further promote water reuse.

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