The European Union is revamping its water quality rules to address possible new health hazards and limit plastic waste by discouraging people from drinking bottled water.
The European Commission said the rules will oblige the bloc’s 28 countries to improve access to drinking water and better inform citizens about water quality, be it from taps or bottles. It hopes the move will improve confidence in local tap water and wean people off bottles, which are among the most common plastic items found on European beaches.
Tap water in Europe costs around 0.2 euro (17p) per litre, far less than bottled water. Commission vice president Frans Timmermans said: “If people know what is cheaper for them and not hazardous to their health, they might make a different choice.”
- The main environmental impacts from the suggested options include: the quality of water resources, reduction of pollution at source for water resources abstracted, improvement of water resources where waste water is discharged (following lower levels of pollutants in drinking water), energy consumption, environmental externalities of consumption of bottled water, which also contribute to reducing the amount of riverine and marine litter, resource efficiency; and biodiversity.
- Drinking water is influenced by the quality of fresh water bodies: simultaneously the requirements for high drinking water quality are also drivers that influence the protection and thus the quality of fresh water bodies. Due to these interactions, impacts are difficult to attribute. It is assumed that in the baseline 2050 fresh water bodies’ quality will keep on improving notably because of the effective implementation of the existing water related directives. It is assumed that the chemical status of surface and ground water bodies will improve by 10 percentage points by 2050 for all water bodies, and by 20 points where an RBA has been implemented.
- Options addressing objective 1 will lead to reductions of pollutants in drinking water. More relevant pollutants will be monitored, which would allow suitable interventions and thus to remove potential risks for the environment. Option 1.2 would have a more significant environmental impact than option 1.1 since it would cover also emerging substances.
- Option 1.2 has thus the potential for the largest reduction in pollution loads. Options addressing objective 2 will have through their integrated risk reduction a positive environmental impact, as risk assessments have the influence and the possibility to improve water quality across all options. It will have in particular a potential to enforce measures at source. The level of contribution depends on the individual cases. It includes the prevention of industrial and pharmaceutical pollution, and different characteristics of the farming such as the crop rotations, intensity of cultivation, integration or not of livestock production as well as type of livestock production, addressing fertilizers, tillage, irrigation, green manuring and liming, reducing monoculture. All these characteristics have a bearing on the quality of water bodies in the area, and changes in these characteristics due to options 2.1 and 2.2 might therefore significantly reduce the level of harmful environmental impact.
- The positive effect of implementing measures addressing option 3 will lead to less ‘toxic/harmful’ contact materials itself, both for metallic and plastic materials, and also reduce the leaching of contaminants into the water cycle. Also, options addressing objective 4 will have a small but positive environmental impact, as consumers will have better information on water quality, and might require further stricter and precautionary measures to limit risks to a minimum.
- With regard to option 5.2, it will open up additional catchments and require additional measures at source, which might have positive local impacts on fresh water quality through reduced pollution loads. The biggest impacts would be in areas with currently low connection rates to PWS. The most affected countries are Romania, Lithuania and Latvia. Reducing the amounts of pollutants in drinking water by unlisted and emerging substances would have a positive environmental impact on water bodies, water ecosystems and organisms.
- The benefits on the status of aquatic ecosystems and related ecosystems will thus also have a positive effect on biodiversity, as well as on the recreational value of ecosystems. The increased measures at source following options 2.1 and 2.2 will to a large extent include changing agricultural practices that have a significant impact on water bodies, soil quality as well as biodiversity. When farmers are adapting their practices to reduce pollution at source, this can have positive impacts on biodiversity/ landscape in the areas where changes in farm practices take place.
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