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APE Seminar | The New Drinking Water and Beyond - Cremona, Italy


On 26 October, two hundred people attended the seminar ‘The new Drinking Water Directive and beyond’ in Cremona, Italy. It was the opportunity to gather a range of stakeholders from the water sector to discuss different perspectives and the challenges posed by evolving regulatory frameworks in Europe. The seminar was an integral part of the current lively debates around water, taking place throughout Europe, and proved particularly timely, considering the political context – the vote in the European Parliament on the Drinking Water Directive took place earlier in the week [read Aqua Publica’s reaction] and the European Commission has launched a wide review of its water legislation.

Please see below a summary of the event, as well as, in the downloads, a full report and our speakers' presentations. 

Legislative developments at EU level and ongoing regulatory reforms in different European countries express the growing political focus on water. Such renewed attention can be explained with both an emerging scientific knowledge on new pollution sources in water, and a growing citizens’ demand of transparency about how their water is managed. The evolution of legislative frameworks aims to increase citizens’ trust in high quality tap water, whilst ensuring its equitable access and sustainable use. The discussions have highlighted stakeholders’ strong commitment to address the challenges arising from new requirements but there is a necessity to mobilise all actors and sufficient resources. Specifically, the debate identified the key elements to successfully address the challenges:

  • clear and fit-for-purpose common rules at EU level;
  • a well-designed distribution of responsibilities amongst different governance levels based on the subsidiarity principle;
  • strong regulatory frameworks and institutions ensuring accountability and performance improvement of water operators, which is also a condition to increase investments;
  • transparency and participatory requirements facilitating the inclusion of all stakeholders.

European public water operators are keen contribute to the current debates, based on their on-the-ground experience in providing everyday safe drinking water to all. Above all, public water operators are working intensely to get ready to address future challenges through the adoption of an holistic approach that will make them key actors of a sustainable local economy.

The seminar opened with a warm welcome from the President of Padania Acque, Claudio Bodini, the Mayor of Cremona Gianluca Galimberti and the Davide Viola, President of the Province of Cremona.

Célia Blauel, President of Aqua Publica and Deputy-Mayor of Paris highlighted Aqua Publica’s involvement in legislative development and acknowledged that debates have shown that providing drinking water to all at an affordable cost is not just a technical matter but it is also a political issue. Further, she says, EU water legislation need to be linked coherently but also to be linked with other laws in other areas.

The European Commission’s Director for Quality of Life in the Directorate General for the Environment, Veronica Manfredi, opened the first roundtable on ‘Possible responses to technical and economic challenges stemming from EU water legislation’. She shared the Commission’s perspectives and rationale behind the legislative work on the new Drinking Water Directive and other pieces of water legislation. It is urgent to find the right formula to managing resources sustainably and for that, she says “all stakeholders need to work together.

The following discussion focused on EU water legislation and its implications for water operators, in particular how they need to adapt their operations and how they can secure the investments that will become necessary to respond to new requirements. 

The newly appointed President of WAREG (European Network of Water Regulators), Andrea Guerrini explained the network's work and how it can support decision-makers – with key data, practical experience and contribution to the development of solutions. The network can help improve legislation with cost savings for authorities and utilities and the role of regulators in ensuring compliance with legislation needs to be better acknowledged.

Gábor Till from Budapest Waterworks and Eric Smit from Belgian SWDE (Société Wallonne des Eaux) provided insight into how operators are preparing to adapt to expected new requirements. Mr. Till focused on the changes that will need to be made, at operator level, to comply with quality requirements whilst Mr. Smit focused on explaining that innovation is also about new ways of looking at how the operator is managed. In particular, he analysed the case of Water Safety Plans, which the new Drinking Water Directive is expected to make mandatory.

Thomas Van Gilst explained the role of the European Investment Bank, the largest source of loan financing to the global water sector. Whilst the EIB can lend up to 50% of investment costs per project, some conditions apply and regulation is an important aspect for a lender.

The second part of the seminar on ‘Evolving national and European regulatory frameworks: increasing convergence?’ gave an overview of national contexts, opening with the presentation of the two Italian draft laws on water management and governance, currently debated jointly, and then, expanding to look into other regions, including Scotland and Ireland, to provide insight into how water is regulated.  

Italian Members of Parliament Federica Daga (Five Stars Movement) and Chiara Braga (Partito Democratico) each introduced their texts and the process that led to the proposals. The context in Italy includes a referendum in 2011 which called for the establishment of water as a public good and attempts by the previous government to organise public entities that manage water, adressing the entire water management cycle.

Alberto Villa, Mayor of Pessano con Bernago and Chair of the Environment Commission of the Italian National Association of Municipalities, explained how essential it is to combine water management with land planning policies, as the two are strictly connected. He also stressed that citizens want tap water that is good and affordable and therefore minimum quality standards are necessary.

Members of Aqua Publica Europea Scottish Water, Viveracqua and Irish Water then presented the situations in their own countries.

Jon Rathjen presented Scotland’s Hydro-Nation programme, which aims to develop the value of water resources, and Scottish Water. In Scotland, the system is fully public and the government recognises water as a political priority. This is also the case in Ireland: Gerry Galvin introduced Ireland’s set of strategic policy documents on water as well as the complex governance structure around Irish Water, including the government, two main regulators with different focuses and two advisory bodies – the Water Forum, representing stakeholders, and the Water Advisory Body, chaired by the commission for regulation, and concluded that the customer is central to the service. Paola Briani presented the experience of Viveracqua (Italy), emphasising that the new Directive is crucial for operators but it will also require significant investments. She explained that, in addition to many actions, Viveracqua was able to realise investments through the first large scale investment project in the water sector co-financed by the European Investment Bank through the issuing of a hydrobond by a consortium of water utilities. 

Alessandro Russo, Aqua Publica’s Vice-President, closed the seminar explaining that Aqua Publica was born out of the need to counter privatisation in Europe. Since then, a political shift towards public management of water has been observed in Europe and worldwide. Nevertheless, although the current conditions are more favourable to public management, they are not be taken for granted. The public sector now has to demonstrate its capacity to respond to the great challenges of the future. And, in order to do so, it is crucial to understand the nature of the service and accept challenges, outside ideological grids. Mr. Russo outlined three key principles for public water operators for the future : participation, sustainability and a holistic approach. Public ownership is better positioned to cooperate with other public administrations and sectors, as it more connected with the local context. If Aqua Publica is able to face challenges in a holistic manner, the next ten years will see the reinforcement of its role.