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WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL WITH WATER?
Substantial investments, drought, human rights, efficient service management, and plastic bottles: water can be a tricky subject. The Hera Group has drawn up this report address the issue with reliable data and hard facts.
While water itself looks transparent, simple and familiar as can be, the topic of water can be complex and, sometimes, treacherous. Because, more and more often, talking about water leads to analysing its political, social, economic, and environmental implications, running the risk of confusion and clichés.
Water, apart from being essential for life and playing a key role in influencing climate, is also an indispensable resource for many businesses. Moreover, the availability of clean drinking water is essential if a community is to thrive.
The UN’s 2030 Agenda, which 193 countries ratified in September 2015, includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (or SDGs), including that of ensuring the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all (goal no. 6) and that of ensuring the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources (goal no. 14). Each goal of the UN Agenda involves specific goals to be achieved by 2030, thanks to the commitment and collaboration between companies and states, regions, and cities. The activities carried out by the Hera Group described in this report are designed to contribute to achieving goal 6.1 (to achieve universal, fair access to clean, economical drinking water for all by 2030) and 14.1 (to prevent and significantly reduce all kinds of marine pollution, with particular attention to that from land-based activities, by 2025).
The objective of ensuring universal, fair access to clean, economical drinking water for all is still far from being achieved. Too many people in the world still do not have access to safe water resources: water scarcity is a problem in many countries in North Africa and Asia, where water stress levels are over 70%. In 2015, only 27% of the least developed countries had basic water services. Concerning the marine life goal, the current situation shows that coastal waters are deteriorating due to pollution and eutrophication: without concrete efforts, coastal eutrophication will increase by 20% by 2050. (source: UN, The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2019).
Some of the European Union's responses to marine pollution are contained in the circular economy package, which among other objectives also aims to stop the dispersion of waste at sea, and in the European "plastic strategy": in May 2019 the European Commission proposed to ban the sale of 10 disposable plastic products (e.g. plates, cutlery, cotton swabs, straws, etc.) that contribute the most to the pollution of Europe's beaches and seas.
As far as the Italian situation is concerned, ISTAT presented a series of compositive indicators to describe Italy's performance compared to the 17 SDGs. For Goals 6 and 14, the situation is static. As to the goal of sustainable water management, the indicator shows a positive trend up to 2014, followed by a two-year decrease. The positive trend observed between 2010 and 2014 appears to be due to the reduction in households that do not rely on drinking tap water, while the subsequent worsening is caused by the decrease in the efficiency of drinking water distribution networks. For Goal 14, the performance of the compositive indicator in recent years confirms a level very close to the 2010 values. (source: Asvis, L'Italia e gli obiettivi di sviluppo sostenibile 2018).
In pursuit of universal and equitable access to water, the resolution adopted in July 2010 by the UN General Assembly acknowledges access to safe drinking water sources and basic sanitation as a universal human right. Approved with 122 votes in favour and 41 abstentions, the resolution advises states to take initiatives that ensure that all citizens have access to good quality drinking water.
There is no natural shortage of water on Earth. The planet could, on average, provide 10,000 litres per person per day. The problem is that 97% of this water is saltwater. Only 3% of the world's water resources are fresh water that is suitable for human requirements.
As developing countries focus their efforts on developing safe water supply systems, developed nations can already count on good water services. The Eurostat environmental report highlights that European nations enjoy good levels of water availability. Most Europeans are connected to mains water supplies (nearly 100% in many countries) and utilisation of water resources appears, in most countries, to be sustainable in the long term. However, there is a burgeoning need to bring treatment plants on line so that wastewater can be safely returned to the environment. In 15 out of 28 European nations, the percentage of citizens connected to wastewater treatment plants is below 80% (source: Eurostat Energy, transport and environment indicators 2018). By evaluating the percentage of treated wastewater compared to the total, the Italian average for 2015 stands at 89.9%, with the worst situations found in the regions of southern Italy such as Sicily (68.5%) or Calabria (76.9% ) (source: ISPRA).
Italy is subject to four infringement procedures concerning urban wastewater treatment, in violation of European legislation (Dir. 91/217/EEC). For the first procedure, which concerns urban areas with more than 15,000 population equivalents, the European Court of Justice has already issued two rulings against Italy, one in 2012 and a second, more recent one in 2018. The second procedure concerns urban areas with more than 10,000 population equivalents, while the 3rd and 4th procedures concern urban areas with more than 2,000 population equivalents.
The increase in water consumption, pollution, habitat disappearance and climate change endanger freshwater reserves, jeopardising natural ecosystems, with negative consequences for human health and safety.
Drought is the cause of migrations and armed conflicts, with economic and social repercussions, not only in the countries directly affected. Excessive water use becomes a threat to the energy and food industries. In Emilia-Romagna, there was a prolonged drought from October 2016 to September 2017, which led to the recognition of the state of emergency for the entire region in September 2017. 2018, on the other hand, was a warm and non-dry year overall, with a general improvement compared to the minimum aquifer levels reached during the prolonged drought of 2017 (source: Arpae, Rapporto Idrometeoclima 2018).
In Italy from 2013 to 2019, 87 states of meteorological and hydro-climatic emergency have been declared by the Civil Protection agency following the occurrence of extreme climatic events, that affected all regions except Trentino-Alto Adige; Emilia-Romagna leads with 12 extreme events. The amounts requested by the Italian regions as a result of the damage caused by these events amount to Euro 9 billion. The funding provided by the government in the 1999-2017 period for land resilience and prevention of hydro-geological risk amounts to Euro 5.6 billion (source: Eurostat): REF Ricerche – Dall’emergenza alla prevenzione, 2019).
Water consumption also has environmental implications, the effects of which are becoming more and more evident.
According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, unless adequate measures are taken, there will, by 2025, be 1 tonne of plastic in our oceans for every 3 tonnes of fish. By 2050, there will even be more plastic (by weight) than fish (source: Ellen MacArthur Foundation, The new plastic economy, 2016).
Much of this plastic comes from the 480 billion plastic bottles sold worldwide (900,000 bottles are sold every minute). Compared to just 10 years ago, that figure has increased by 60% and is expected to rise by another 20% over the next 5 years (source: Euromonitor International’s global packaging trends report, 2015).
Increased plastic production particularly for the production of packaging (among which plastic bottles), has not been matched by a corresponding expansion of recycling and reutilisation schemes. In this context, the transition of the plastics industry towards a circular economy offers a major opportunity to decouple plastic production from fossil fuel consumption.
Italian bottling companies, which fill some 16 billion litres of bottles with mineral water per year, pay a license fee of just Euro 1.2 per 1000 litres (about one-thousandth of a Euro per litre bottled). That means that they enjoy massive mark-ups and extremely high profit margins in the face of significant and unsustainable environmental impacts. Concession costs amounted to 0.68% of the turnover of the mineral water bottling sector, equal to Euro 2.4 billion. There are a total of 265 concessions (mostly with a duration of 30 years) that have been granted to 194 concessionaires and occupy over 300 square kilometres (source: Italian Ministry of Economy and Finance, Concessioni acque minerali e termali, 2018).
Tariffs are another topic of keen interest, about which there is a plethora of viewpoints. The cost of water depends on local characteristics, such as ease of access and abstraction, the quality of the water and, therefore, the complexity of its purification treatment. It also depends on the condition of publicly owned plants and pipes. A 2015 survey by the International Water Association reveals, however, marked differences between the tariffs applied in the 337 cities and 130 countries surveyed. The comparison shows that tariffs in Italy are among the lowest in Europe.
According to Arera's 2019 annual report, the average cost of water services in Italy in 2018 was Euro 2.04 per cubic meter (for a consumption of 150 cubic meters per year). This expense consists of a fixed fee (10%), a fee for the waterworks service (39%), a fee for the purification service (29%) and a fee for the sewerage service (13%); the remaining 9% is VAT (source: Arera, Annual Report 2019)
Since its founding, the Hera Group has, on average, invested Euro 104 million per year in the water cycle (maintaining that commitment even at the peak of the economic crisis). In 2018 investment totalled Euro 157.9 million (+1% compared to 2017). More specifically, it invested 52% in the mains water network, 31% in the sewer system and 17% in water treatment.
Including the works carried out or financed by the asset holding companies and Romagna Acque, in the area served by Hera, Euro 179.3 million was invested in 2018, Euro 49 per capita, compared to a national average of Euro 41 per inhabitant (source: Utilitas, 2019 Blue Book) and against a European average of Euro 80. The highest per capita investments are in Denmark (Euro 130), the United Kingdom (Euro 100) and France (Euro 90) (source: Federutility, Rapporto generale sulle acque 2020, 2014) where the cost of tap water is, however, much higher than in Italy (Euro 6.75 per cubic meter in Denmark, Euro 3.89 in the UK, Euro 3.60 in France and Euro 1.36 in Italy) (Source: IWA; International statistics for water services, 2015).
Nevertheless, new stability and the ability to plan ahead have seen a pick-up in investment, at least as far as those groups that have the required size, knowledge and capacity are concerned. In fact, the tariffing method defined by Arera (for the second phase of the plan, 2016-2019) shows an increase in planned investment that will, at the national level, rise from the Euro 2.2 billion allocated in 2016 to 3.0 billion in 2019 (+33%).
New rules in Europe on drinking water
The European Commission’s new proposal to amend the 98/83/EC Drinking Water Directive
On 1 February 2018, the European Commission published its proposal to amend Directive 98/83/EC, with the aim of improving the quality of drinking water and access to it.
In February 2019, the Council of the European Union approved a common position on the proposed review of the Drinking Water Directive, which updates the quality standards and rules for monitoring tap water, and requires a clampdown on certain contaminants and provisions to improve access to water. Special attention has been paid to perfluoroalkylic substances (PFAS).
In March 2019, the European Parliament adopted the measure at first reading of the proposed directive.
Almost all European citizens already have high-quality tap water available, especially compared to other world regions, thanks to over 30 years of European legislation on the quality of tap water; nevertheless, there are still 4 million people in Europe who are potentially at risk due to the health-related problems due to water quality.
The Commission’s proposal ensures that water intended for human consumption can be used safely, protecting the health of citizens. The main points of the proposal ensure that tap water is checked using standards based on the latest scientific evidence, to put in place an efficient and effective monitoring system that contributes to improving the quality of water and provide consumers with adequate, appropriate and timely information.
The proposal to amend Directive 98/83/EC has been included in the Commission's 2017 work program as a response to the Right2Water initiative promoted by European citizens.
THE OBJECTIVES OF THE LEGISLATIVE PROPOSAL
|Improve access to water for everyone||Better quality and transparency will make tap water safer.|
|Update drinking water quality standards||Trust in tap water will increase.|
|Increase transparency to raise consumer awareness||This will be good for the health of European citizens, for their wallets and the planet.|
The Commission wants to ensure that the high quality of tap water is maintained in the long term. The proposed amendment to the Directive will improve water quality and safety by adding new and emerging substances to the list of criteria used to determine water safety. These additions take into account the latest scientific knowledge and recommendations of the World Health Organization.
The new rules will require the Member States to improve access for everybody, especially vulnerable groups and marginalised groups who currently have limited access to tap water. This means installing systems for distributing tap water in public spaces, organising information campaigns for citizens on the quality of water and encouraging administrations and those who manage public buildings to facilitate access to tap water.
A further important change in legislation will provide citizens with simple and accessible information, also on line, on the quality and availability of tap water in the areas where they live, thereby improving confidence in tap water.
Reducing bottled water consumption can help European households save more than Euro 600 million per year. By increasing confidence in tap water, citizens can also help reduce plastic waste production and marine pollution.
Better management of tap water by Member States will avoid unnecessary network leakages and help reduce CO2 emissions.
The measurable objectives
- people in Europe exposed to health risks from drinking water
from 20 million (4% of EU residents) down to 4.7-4.1 million (<1% of EU residents)
- savings for European citizens (consumption of tap water instead of bottled water)
Euro 600 million per year
- bottled water consumption in Europe
-17% compared to 2015 (with a 1.2 million tonne reduction in plastic pollution and CO2 emissions)
With this proposal, the Commission responds:
- to the Right2Water Initiative, signed by 1.6 million citizens
- to the European Pillar of Social Rights: the right to access good quality essential services (including water)
- to the UN’s 2030 Agenda: Goal 6: Clean water and sanitation services
- to the European Union's Plastic Strategy: better drinking water quality can lead to a reduction in bottled water consumption
- to the Paris agreements on Climate Change: reducing bottled water consumption can reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The present “In buone acque” (In good waters) report, published since 2009, is entirely in line with this new legislative intervention by the Commission, anticipating by ten years the European request for greater transparency on the quality of tap water to increase public trust.
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