The expectations of citizens and stakeholders as regards information in the water sector have been increasing in the last years. On the one hand, consumers are paying greater attention to the quality of the product they consume and the services they use. On the other hand, there is growing awareness that, due to the nature of water as a common good, inclusive and sustained stakeholder engagement is needed to address potential conflicts between competing needs and, more generally, to ensure effective governance. Water operators are among the main actors when it comes to the management of water resources and, as such, they also have responsibilities in the field of information to users and to society as a whole.
Building on the contribution of water experts, consumers representatives, policy-makers and academics, the seminar explored the role of public water operators in ensuring adequate information and in contributing to stakeholder engagement.
The seminar was opened by the President of Aqua Publica Europea, Célia Blauel, who stressed that the issue is not publishing the information in itself (something that is already done by most operators) but using this information on ensure a democratic control of the management of this common resource which is water.
The first session, “Information in the water sector – a shared responsibility”, was opened by Mr Matjaž Malgaj, Head the Marine Environment and Water Industry Unit of DG Environment (European Commission). Mr Malgaj presented the Commission proposal to recast the Drinking Water Directive. One of the aims of this proposal is to increase transparency to increase confidence in tap water and empower consumers.
Ivaylo Kastchiev, Director General of the Bulgarian Water Regulator and member of the task force on water efficiency of the European Network of Water Regulators (WAREG), stressed the role of Key Perfomance Indicators (KPI) in ensuring good and effective regulation. Mr Kastchiev underlined the comparability problems that exist today due to differences in national regulatory frameworks.
Hakan Tropp, Head of the Water Governance Programme at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), underlined the need to use data and information to increase public understanding on the challenges facing the water sector and help support policy- and decision-making, namely when it comes to channeling financial resources to the sector and taking investment decisions.
The second session, “What kind of information, for whom and to do what?” was opened by Nuria Hernández Mora, specialist in water governance and water policy analysis at the Fundación Nueva Cultura del Agua (FNCA), who provided a general overview of international and EU legislation framing the debate and of the different challenges and questions related to public participation in the water sector.
Rocío Algeciras Cabello, Member of the Board of the Spanish consumer association FACUA Consumidores en Acción, presented the associations’ participation in different decision-making bodies in the water sector (citizen councils and water operators) and stressed that, in order to be useful and empower consumers, information needs to be easily understood.
David Sanchez, Director of the EU Office of Food and Water Watch Europe, recalled the efforts put into the Right to Water European Citizen’s Initiative, and stressed that the limited response received from the European Commission is not encouraging citizens’ participation. He also used this example to show that, when given the opportunity, citizens participate and can contribute to sound decisions, he however regretted that, still today, the capacity of citizens to understand complex technical and political issues is not taken for granted.