Water resources and water supply in the European Union are coming under increased pressure because of climate change, a situation potentially leading to water shortages and droughts. Urban developments and agricultural practices add pressure to water resources.

Water reuse is one way of alleviating pressure on freshwater sources. It is also in line with the EU circular economy ambitions. The Water Framework Directive from 2000 already mentions water reuse and water technologies as potential solutions to current and future water problems. Moreover, water reuse approaches are high in the water management hierarchy as set out in two communications from 2007 and 2012. The new Circular Economy Action plan from 2020 also draws the attention to water reuse in agriculture. 

Sectors where water reuse policies implementation can be beneficial include agriculture (artificial wetlands), urban environment (blue-green infrastructure, recreation and irrigation, firefighting purposes) and industry (machinery and equipment washing). 

The European Union took a concrete policy measure to address the problem. A new EU Regulation on minimum requirements for water reuse was adopted by the EU Council in March, 2020. The regulation promotes the use of water reuse in agricultural irrigation by setting minimum requirements for water quality. 

Naturally, the development of the water reuse sector is underpinned by multiple technical and systemic solutions. 

Solutions

Against this backdrop, the Interreg Europe project AQUARES addresses the issue of water reuse and aims at ‘identifying viable strategies for water reuse’ and ‘promoting public dialogue to address conflicting interests’. Good practices within AQUARES are mainly technical solutions involving systemic changes and active communication to users. 

Source: MULTI-ReUse 

MULTI-Reuse Wesermarsch pilot plant for water reuse, Germany 

The MULTI-ReUse project develops and implements new procedures for the reuse of service water, mainly needed for industrial and agricultural purposes. The practice MULTI-ReUse Wesermarsch pilot plant for water reuse takes place in the city of Nordenham in Lower Saxony (Germany), Region Wesermarsch. It is a region with high water demand by industrial and commercial customers. The practice is a very good example of a modular water treatment system with the goal of reusing water for different purposes.

The degree and technology of water purification correlates with the future use of the reused water. The system is suitable for industrial areas which would like to develop a smart water reuse system with the goal of water efficiency and freshwater savings. The success of the practice is proven by the fact that a larger-scale plant will be realised as a follow-up to the pilot. The practice could be of interest to regions and cities which would like to experiment with water reuse in the context of the circular economy.

New Water Project - Highly Polished Treated Effluent, Malta

Malta’s Water Services Corporation is implementing a multi-million EUR EU-funded project for the production of ‘high quality reclaimed waters’ in Malta. An innovative water distribution system has been incorporated within the New Water Project to facilitate the distribution of reclaimed water for irrigation use. The good practice is an excellent example of a highly innovative technological solution for polishing treated effluent with the goal of ensuring high quality standards in the reclaimed water distributed for irrigation purposes.

In addition, the reclaimed water is used in substitution of groundwater, hence reducing the pressures on this important natural resource. Access to New Water is enabled by using an electronic card. The success of the system is proven by the increasing interest for access to the system and the improved security of water supply for the agricultural sector. The system could be of interest to dry areas in Southern Europe. Interested regions could further explore the technical aspects of the system such as minimal use of pumps; and the planning and construction phase of this network.

Source: New Water Project

According to Manuel Sapiano, CEO of the Energy & Water Agency, the New Water project provides an important opportunity for increasing security of water supply to the agricultural sector whilst reducing its dependence on natural water resources.  The project therefore provides an important opportunity for agriculture to develop in an increasingly sustainable manner.

Covid and water reuse

No risks have been identified for Covid-19 infection through the water supply systems. Nevertheless, additional measures have been taken (i.e. in Greece and Spain) for additional protection of water sources and sanitation operations. For example, there is an increase in the chlorination level of water supplies.

Conclusion

Given the developing EU legislation and the accelerating circular economy agenda water reuse will be of an increasing interest to European regions and cities, especially to regions with frequent droughts and other water pressures. AQUARES good practices could be an inspiration both as technical solutions but also as examples how to move the water reuse issue higher on the political agenda.

Image credit: Photo by James Wheeler from Pexels