On 9 March 2021, the Policy Learning Platform hosted a webinar on the Water reuse and the European Green Deal.

Spurring water reuse in agriculture will be crucial to decrease the enormous pressure on water bodies exerted by the sector, responsible for the 59% of total water use according to the European Environmental Agency. The newly adopted EU Regulation setting minimum requirements for water reuse will help regions to support the uptake of this practice in their territories, thereby realising more water savings in the near future.

To maximise benefits at local and regional levels, the potentials of water reuse may be explored also beyond farming. The new Circular Economy Action Plan, which acknowledges the central role this practice for the shift to the circular economy, constitutes the policy framework for any action in this regard.

Against this backdrop, the webinar aimed to provide an overview of the latest EU policy developments relevant for the water sector, explore effective regional policies to overcome barriers to water reuse in agriculture and discover viable solutions for water reuse in the dairy industry.

Around 160 participants attended this event to find out what can be done at local and regional levels to boost water reuse. You can watch the recording below as well as access the presentations. 

Webinar recording

Webinar agenda overview

Navigate to the discussion topics of interest in the webinar agenda overview below. 

Moderation and concept by: Astrid Severin and Marco Citelli, Thematic Experts of Environment and resource efficiency. 

00:02:16 Introduction to the Policy Learning Platform services and topic by Astrid Severin

00:09:14 Keynote speech by Valentina Bastino on recent EU water policy developments in the sphere of the circular economy.

00:23:20 Q&A: What do you think, for a region that wants to start with water reuse and has not yet made a lot of progress, where would they start? What should they do first? 

00:26:12 Q&A: Does the Green Deal foresee a financing scheme and opportunities for e.g. demonstration projects in the field of irrigation of reclaimed water? 

00:29:41 Presentation by Manuel Boluda Fernandez presented strategies to make reclaimed water available for reuse in agriculture (AQUARES project).

00:39:50 Q&A: How can we overcome the psychological barriers to the use of reclaimed water?

00:41:11 Q&A: You mentioned you created a specific entity, do you think such a dedicated entity is key factor for the success? 

00:43:00 Q&A: How did you design your risk management plan? 

00:45:20 Presentation by Daniele Cencioni outlined the Emilia-Romagna regional policy framework on water reuse and protection (CESME project).

00:53:35 Q&A: When you had your policies in place and you started with your reuse plans, how have you been addressing industry? 

00:55:09 Presentation by Mirella Di Stefano presented water reuse in the dairy sector starting from the experience of the Granarolo plant in Bologna (CESME project).

01:04:12 Q&A: What support do you expect from your region to implement better measures for reuse of water? 

Panel discussion

01:09:01 Q&A: Explanation of the European Commission on how expectations and needs can be met by the industry.

01:15:07 Q&A: Does the European Commission have plans to put forward a directive against desertification and drought? And is there a potential for adoption of further criteria to regulate the irrigation in the agricultural sector, not from reclaimed water but with rain water and surface water?

01:19:03 Q&A: Is there public resistance against the reuse of water in Italy? 

01:23:14 Q&A: Are there any good examples of addressing the issue of social rejection? 

Key Learnings

The main take-aways that policymakers can draw from this webinar are:

  • Adopted in May 2020, the Water Reuse Regulation will apply from June 2023. It will address water scarcity and drought, while safeguarding public health and the environment. The European Commission estimates that water reuse could grow from the 1,1 billion m3 per year of 2015 up to 6 billion m3/year in 2025, sustained by this Regulation. Beside introducing harmonised quality requirements and monitoring parameters to address health risks, it also lays down risk management obligations to ensure safety against any environment and additional health risks.
  • A proposal to amend the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (UWWTD) might be published in 2022. The impact assessment already launched to this effect concerns areas of improvement, such as remaining pollution, energy use and sludge management. A public consultation is envisaged for early 2021. The Sewage Sludge Directive (SSD) is being evaluated to see how it could better match current challenges, such as tackling 'emerging contaminants' in the sludge, like pharmaceuticals and microplastics. The proposal to amend the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) due for the end of 2021 is likely to further look into ways to reduce resource use and support circular economy at the level of industrial plants, including those in the water management sector.
  • The experience of the Murcia Region (Spain), a true pioneer in embedding water reuse into river basin management planning, shows it is possible to successfully move from 0% to 98% of reclaimed water reuse in agriculture while guaranteeing safety for the soil, plants, animals and humans. Five elements are necessary to achieve such a remarkable result, namely: 1) a high water demand from farmers; 2) a well-structured and transparent governance system; 3) a stable policy framework to attract investments; 4) efficient financing to allow the recovery of costs in the long term and 5) the promotion of water reuse among final users, i.e. agricultural businesses.
  • The progressive refinement of the regulatory framework on the protection of water resources in the Emilia-Romagna Region from 2005 to 2017 induced Granarolo SpA, a leading company in the milk and dairy industry, to take concrete steps towards water reuse and water efficiency at the level of its factories, starting from the one in the territory of the Bologna Metropolitan City, where a waste water treatment plant allowed to decrease groundwater abstraction levels, thereby generating a 10% of water savings.
  • Circular approaches can be successfully applied in the dairy sector. The case of Granarolo shows that exhausted cheese whey, a by-product of mozzarella and ricotta production, can be transformed into purified water thanks to a reverse osmosis process and be returned to the plant for refrigeration purposes instead of being resold to livestock farming or other processing industries. Technologies like filtration systems can also be used to maintain the quality of the products being processed, like mozzarella, while recovering great amounts of water. 
Image credit: Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels