New Spanish government redirects water policy

Catalan Water Agency Director Jaume Solá discussed new government policy at the Water & Wastewater Europe 2004 Conference in Barcelona, Spain, and Keynote Speaker Dr. David Lloyd Owen offered insights on European water industry trends, including the effects of climate change on Water Framework Directive (WFD) compliance.

by Pamela Wolfe

Catalonia, a major tourist destination and industrial region of Spain, must create new water resources by investing in desalination plants, wastewater treatment facilities for reuse, and water conservation initiatives, Director Jaume Solá of the Catalan Water Agency announced during the Opening Ceremony of the Water & Wastewater Europe 2004 Conference & Exhibition, held during 25 to 27 May in Barcelona, Spain.

These measures signal a new direction for Spain following the April elections that forced the removal of the Partido Popular, which supported the controversial Ebro River plan. This massive undertaking would have redirected huge amounts of water from the river in the north to water-scarce coastal regions in the south and southeast. The incoming Socialist Party government led by Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero stopped the implementation of this policy.

More than any other country in Europe, Spain has been rapidly increasing its share, ¤2.5 billion, out of an estimated total of ¤80 billion spent annually by municipalities in European Union member states on operating and capital expenses for water and wastewater infrastructure and services, according to Keynote Speaker Dr. David Lloyd Owen, managing director of Envisager Ltd. Spending by EU member states, such as France (¤ 9.5b), Germany (¤27b )and the UK (¤12.5b) is not increasing at the same rate as Spain. Municipalities in these countries have been investing billions for many years to improve water and wastewater infrastructure and meet EU directives. Dr. Owen is the co-author of five editions of the Masons Water Yearbook, published by Mason Solicitors in London, UK.

The EU directives that are really driving the European water and wastewater market, such as the Water Framework (2008-2015) and Urban Wastewater Treatment (1998-2005), will require huge investments by individual member states. But these estimates vary widely, says Dr. Owen, anywhere from B25 billion to B100 billion to meet the WFD. Approximately B80 billion to B100 billion is necessary for EU member states to comply with the Urban Wastewater Directive 2005 deadline that applies to villages with populations exceeding 2,000; this includes most sewage treatment works in Europe.

Why the wide range? He explained that many member states have not yet finalised their WFD programmes of compliance measures, so an accurate forecast is impossible. So far, not enough attention has been given to the economic and health benefits of investing in water and wastewater infrastructure, such as improving tourism, agriculture, industry and health. Consequently, the political will necessary to push the compliance programmes is not strong enough when economic benefits are perceived to be questionable.

Climate change effects, such as droughts and floods, will create new costs for countries trying to comply with directives. Drought and flood risk management were added to the WFD as an afterthought, some water experts contend, so the full financial impact of climate change upon water and wastewater infrastructure has yet to be realised.

Rainstorms are increasing in frequency and intensity due to climate change, which are causing serious water quality problems for millions, especially in areas where sewers are not operated separately from stormwater systems. Increasingly, higher stormwater/sewage loads are overwhelming treatment plants and causing untreated sewage to flood into rivers and even basements. Floodwaters can also carry pollutants and agricultural runoff, including pesticides and fertilisers.

The WFD is driving a long-term shift towards the separation of sewage and stormwater systems, Dr. Owen observed. In the UK, water companies began to install separate sewer systems since privatisation began in 1989. In the USA, combined sewer overflow plans for 1999 to 2019 are expected to start having an effect beginning 2005, he explained.

Next June, the Water & Wastewater Europe 2005 Conference & Exhibition will be held in conjunction with PowerGen Europe in Milan, Italy, and will further examine these trends and other relevant issues, such as demand management, nutrient removal, sewage treatment and water quality.

Pamela L. Wolfe, Managing Editor

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