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EVENT | A BLUE NEW DEAL: Water’s role in a sustainable and fair future

On 20 May, Aqua Publica Europea and Águas de Gaia, the public water operator of the city of Vila Nova de Gaia (Portugal), co-organised the international conference "A Blue new Deal: water's role in a sustainable and fair future” to discuss how effective protection of water resources can contribute to building a green and fair recovery.

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As part of the EU Green Week, and with the support of the Portuguese Council of the EU, the conference "A Blue New Deal" brought together, both physically and virtually, distinguished speakers to discuss how institutions and stakeholders can collaborate to ensure a healthy environment and healthy water resources, as a condition for sustainable and equitable development.

Miguel Lemos Rodrigues, Executive Director of Águas de Gaia, welcomed the participants from the water reservoir General Torres, the physical location of the event, in Vila Nova de Gaia (Portugal).Miguel

In her opening keynote speech, Inês dos Santos Costa, Secretary of State for Environment of Portugal,   explained how the Portuguese Government set the objective of achieving a climate transition that leaves no one behind as the key priority of their presidency of the EU. She further argued that water has to be managed as a common good, excluded from commodification processes if the objective is to be achieved.

In the first session "A sustainable management of water resources as a pillar of a fair climate transition" participants discussed why the protection of water resources and efficient water management plays a key role in enabling a climate transition that leaves no one behind, starting with an illustration of water’s place in the EU Green Deal, including in the freshly published "Action Plan "Towards a Zero Pollution for Air, Water and Soil”, by the European Commission’s Bettina Döser.

"The Zero Pollution Action Plan is relevant for every EU citizens: it's about water all around us, and although drinking water is of good quality, making it drinkable, is still difficult because our water bodies are not in good status", she said. 

The conditions for effective protection of water resources as a condition for sustainable and equitable development were then further discussed, also through concrete examples, from the perspective of local authorities and public operators (Dan Lert, Deputy Mayor of Paris and President of Eau de Paris), of regulators  (Vera Eirò, Board Member of ERSAR - Portuguese Water Regulator), and of NGOs (Afonso Do O , Water Practice Coordinator, at WWF Portugal).

Mark Weinmeister, Member of the Committee of the Regions and Secretary of State for European Affairs of the State of Hessen (Germany), opened the second session focused on "Public water services as drivers of the ecological transformation". 

Mr Weinmeister, who was the European Committee of the Regions’ rapporteur on the Drinking Water Directive,  stressed how the new Directive will improve the quality and safety of tap water for citizens, in particular through an "a new risk-based and prevention strategy, from the well to the tap and optimised by tailoring to local condition." He also welcomed Aqua Publica Europe Water Erasmus flagship initiative which promotes cooperation and knowledge sharing among water operators.

The final panel discussion was focused on the important role that public water operators play in the move towards an ecological transformation shaping both the economy and society. Miguel Lemos Rodrigues opened the panel by illustrating the role that Aguas de Gaia plays to make water one of the elements of a smart city. Kim Augustin, Head of Quality and Energy Management, HAMBURG WASSER, explained the public water operator’s contribution to the circular economy through energy efficiency and recovery of precious nutrients from wastewater. Paul Campbell, Head of Learning & Organisational Development, Scottish Water, presented the utility’s initiatives to attract young professionals and create green jobs in the water sector as a concrete contribution to Scotland’s development. Another important role that Public Water operators play is in the fostering advancement of scientific knowledge in water as illustrated by Beatrice Coloru, Researcher, Research Centre, SMAT.

Ricardo Campos, President of the Energy and Climate Forum, closed the panel discussion by outlining the different challenges that remain to be addressed in the coming years from the perspective of society.

The conference was wrapped up by the President of Aqua Publica Europea, Bernard Van Nuffel who found that the conference gave an encouraging signal of how water is finally gaining the deserved centre stage of European and national policies.

The closing word went to the Portuguese Minister for the Environment and Climate Action João Pedro Matos Fernandes, with a positive message regarding the future of water, but also warned of some problems that can still arise if nothing is done.