A successful event to foster cross-sectoral cooperation towards sustainability !
On 17 October 2019, on the occasion the tenth anniversary of Aqua Publica Europea, the European Association of Public Water Operators, about one hundred participants gathered for a seminar connecting the water sector with other public sectors to discuss how to jointly foster a sustainable future in a circular society. The seminar was hosted by VIVAQUA, the public water operator of Brussels.
Full report available to download below.
The seminar was the opportunity to launch the association’s 10-year publication ‘The Public Water Services of the Future’ which presents how public operators are preparing to tackle the great challenges of our time – from climate change to growing investment needs, as well as to harness emerging opportunities. Based on the actual strategies of Aqua Publica members, the document presents the public water operator as part of several ecosystems - environment, society, economy and knowledge - and as embedded in the contextual fabric to contribute to development that benefits the general interest.
A first panel focused on the future of water, with experts from the European Environment Agency (EEA), WAREG (association of European water regulators), the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the European Environmental Bureau (EEB). The panel identified the key challenges for water management: quality of water, including emerging pollution concerns (diffuse pollution, micro-pollutants, mixture effects), quantity and availability of water (access to water, scarcity), and gaps in regulation (sludge). The discussion highlighted the imperative to prioritise pollution prevention over treatment as well as the need to adopt a fully circular mind set when addressing issues to be able to find new solutions. Financing and governance are central, especially in a changing framework: strong legislation needs to be fully implemented; all stakeholders – including the civil society - need to be involved in decision-making; and political courage is necessary to put in place effective mechanisms (cost-recovery, Polluter-Pays principle). Whilst water operators are particularly efficient at finding solutions to the range of issues, it is time to involve other sectors in the search for solutions.
Following-up on that conclusion, the discussion then took a wider approach with the view that, if we are truly committed, as a society, to building a sustainable future, it is paramount to work across sectors and across silos. Two panels were each introduced by a public water operator’s best practice from the sustainability and inter-disciplinarity angles, focusing on two aspects of water management: management of sludge and the potential of nutrient and energy recovery (Gruppo CAP) and rainwater management in urban areas (HAMBURG WASSER).
It was the opportunity to gather the sectors of, in the first panel, energy (CEDEC), agriculture (Irrigants d'Europe) and digital (Fujitsu), and, in the second panel, housing (Housing Europe), banking (EAPB) and the civil society (Etats Généraux de l'Eau de Bruxelles). Conclusions highlighted that bringing different sectors around the same table is a critical exercise, albeit unusual, and needs to be encouraged further, also at the EU level when developing new policy. Such cross-sectoral discussions, from the beginning of the process, allow to address differences and find solutions satisfactory to all parties. In addition, the discussion highlighted that many best practices come from the local level and can contribute to debates.
The participants also received reusable water bottles from all around Europe, from the members of Aqua Publica Europea, to promote drinking tap water and to fight plastic pollution.