Review of the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive

EESC opinion: Review of the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive

Key points


  • recognises clean water as a strategic resource for ensuring the functioning of our society and a resilient EU economy, as well as for environmental and human health, and thus considers that it needs to be treated with corresponding care. Some 60% of EU river basin districts are cross-border and require transboundary cooperation. The recent ecological disaster of the Oder river should be used as a warning example of failed cooperation and lack of transparency;
  • maintains that pollution must always first and foremost be addressed at source, but recognises urban wastewater treatment as an important last filter to protect receiving waters with benefits for the environment, human health and society;
  • strongly supports the proposal for an Extended Producer Responsibility that would require producers to cover the cost of removing micropollutants resulting from their products from wastewater, but exemptions must be strictly limited for it to be efficient;
  • welcomes the proposal for selected urban wastewater treatment plants to install additional treatments for their removal and highlights the need for considerable efforts to "break" the old standards through new innovative treatment methods. It also considers that there must be room for decentralised solutions through small sized plants with special attention regarding functionality, if the Directive is extended to cover agglomerations from 1000 p.e.;
  • considers that the Directive should introduce a cap on the occurrence of sewer overflows and reporting to the public should give the full picture of the pollutant load carried by overflows. Urban run-off, in the form of polluted rainwater (including snow) from the urban landscape, e.g. roads, should be collected and properly treated before being discharged into receiving waters. Preventive measures, such as blue-green solutions that capture and retain rainwater e.g. via green roofs or raingardens, decrease the load on sewers and bring many co-benefits for the urban landscape;
  • is concerned that water and sanitation are public services, but are sometimes provided by private companies. Rules and regulations need to be in place to ensure that public services are not run for profit and that revenues are invested in maintenance and improvement of the services. Ensuring water affordability should be a priority for all Member States;
  • calls on the European institutions to start addressing water as a priority and develop an "EU Blue Deal": a radical effort to anticipate needs, to preserve water resources and adequately manage related challenges through a comprehensive and coordinated roadmap, setting ambitious targets and actions linked to agreed milestones. The EESC will make concrete proposals towards an EU Blue Deal in the course of 2023.