APE reacts to the provisional agreement on the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive
While the details still need to be finalised, Aqua Publica Europea reacts to the main elements of the provisional agreement that the European Parliament and the Council found on the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive.
On Monday, 29 January, the European Parliament and the Council found a provisional agreement on the recast of the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive (UWWTD). While the details still need to be finalised over a series of technical meetings in the coming days, Aqua Publica Europea would like to react to the main elements of the political deal:
Collecting systems and secondary treatment
The co-negotiators agreed to extend the requirement to set up urban wastewater collecting systems and to apply secondary treatment to all agglomerations of 1 000 p.e. and above by 2035. We welcome this threshold, which provides the necessary balance between investments needs and environmental benefits. We also support the extension of the deadline for compliance from 2030 to 2035, which allows more time to adjust to the new requirements, and the introduction of derogations when specific conditions are met, in particular in high mountainous areas.
The co-negotiators agreed to apply tertiary treatment in all urban wastewater treatment plants of 150 000 p.e. and above by 2039 and in agglomerations of 10 000 p.e. and above that discharge in areas meeting certain risk-based criteria by 2045 (with intermediate targets). The following requirements of minimum percentage of reduction and concentration limits have been decided for phosphorus: 90% / 0,5 mg/L for urban wastewater treatment plants over 150 000 p.e. and 87,5% / 0,7 mg/L for urban wastewater treatment plants between 10 000 and 150 000 p.e. While the thresholds remain ambitious, we welcome the introduction of different values based on the size of urban wastewater treatment plants, which allows for a more cost-efficient implementation of phosphorus removal requirements.
The co-negotiators agreed to apply quaternary treatment in all urban wastewater treatment plants of 150 000 p.e. and above and in agglomerations of 10 000 p.e. and above that discharge in areas meeting certain risk-based criteria by 2045 (with intermediate targets). We welcome the alignment of the thresholds of quaternary treatment with those of tertiary treatment to facilitate implementation and support the extension of the deadline to allow sufficient time for investment planning and infrastructure development.
We will closely monitor the list of control substances in Table 3 of Annex I when released as some substances that have been proposed for addition could create legal uncertainties in the implementation of the EPR scheme or be challenging to monitor due to low concentrations.
Extended Producer Responsibility
The co-negotiators agreed to introduce Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for human pharmaceuticals and for cosmetic products whose producers will have to cover at least 80% of the costs of quaternary treatment (complemented by up to 20% of national financing) down from 100% in the European Commission’s proposal. We consider the adoption of the EPR scheme as a crucial step towards a better implementation of the polluter-pays principle in line with EU treaties and the Water Framework Directive. We are convinced that the EPR scheme will pave the way for a better protection of both human health and the environment, while ensuring a fairer distribution of costs across users and providing incentives for the development of greener products. We regret, however, the watering down of the initial Commission’s proposal with the introduction of national financing, which will create discrepancies across the internal market and risk driving competition between Member States.
We will closely monitor the exoneration conditions as well as the implementation timeline as a short timeline is key to securing investments and providing predictability in financial planning.
The co-negotiators agreed to introduce an energy neutrality target to the urban wastewater sector by 2045 (with intermediate targets: 20% by 2030; 40% by 2035 and 70% by 2040). This energy can be produced on or off-site and up to 35% of non-fossil energy can be purchased from external sources (applicable only to the final target). We appreciate that the urban wastewater sector must play its part to help the EU achieve its climate neutrality objective, but it is important to highlight that its emissions cannot be completely avoided while the sector’s industrial operations pursue a public sector mission. In that respect, we strongly welcome the extension of the deadlines as well as the flexibility provided to take into account renewable energy produced off-site and to purchase non-fossil energy from external sources provided that certain conditions are met, but we still caution that the agreed energy neutrality target remains challenging for a series of urban wastewater treatment plant operators that are constrained by local conditions outside of their control.
Integrated urban wastewater management plans
The co-negotiators agreed to require Member States to develop integrated wastewater management plans for all agglomerations of 100 000 p.e. and above by 2033 and for agglomerations of 10 000 p.e. and above meeting certain risk-based criteria by 2039. The plans should include an indicative objective that storm water overflow represents no more than 2% of the annual collected urban wastewater load for agglomerations of 100 000 p.e. and above by 2039 and for agglomerations of 10 000 and above meeting certain conditions by 2045. We welcome the alignment of the plans’ timing with the Water Framework Directive and the extension of the deadlines related to stormwater overflow, which will allow for a better uptake of nature-based solutions. We stress, however, that there are legal uncertainties regarding the indicative objective on stormwater overflow and would have preferred a biding objective based on local environmental risks.
The European Parliament and the Council still need to formally approve the agreement before it can enter into force.
European Parliament's press release: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20240129IPR17203/deal-on-more-efficient-treatment-and-reuse-of-urban-wastewater
Council's press release: https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2024/01/29/urban-wastewater-council-and-parliament-reach-a-deal-on-new-rules-for-more-efficient-treatment-and-monitoring
European Commission's press release: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_24_504