Water pricing – the key to WFD compliance?
- From: Vol 10, Issue 10 (October 2009)
- Category: General
- Region: Europe
- Related Companies: European Commission and Veolia
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The power of the European agricultural lobby could slow the implementation of far-reaching water pricing policies. Identifying polluters is only part of the problem.
Introducing water pricing policies that take into full account the “wider picture” of water users’ effects on water resources is a key factor for compliance with the EU’s Water Framework Directive (WFD), a senior EU official has said.
Speaking at a CIWEM conference in Lille, France, at the end of September, the head of the water unit in the European Commission’s environment directorate, Peter Gammeltoft, called for EU states to “put a price on scarcity and pollution” to ensure full compliance with the directive.
The WFD requires policies that “provide adequate incentives for users to use water resources efficiently” by 2010. It has been argued by some that the cost recovery principle enshrined in the directive should only refer to the costs directly related to the provision of water services.
However, including only the cost of infrastructure, personnel and other similar items is not enough, Gammeltoft said. The concept “must apply to everything, because the WFD applies to all uses and all impacts,” he stated.
The European Commission has the power to refer EU member states to the European Court of Justice, which can lead to heavy fines, if it believes they have failed to correctly implement EU legislation.
Several speakers at the conference pointed to the agricultural sector as a major part of the problem, given its huge effect on water resources, both as a polluter and as a large user of water for irrigation.
According to Dominique Gatel of water industry lobby group EUREAU, part of the problem is that the European Commission’s water unit “is not as powerful as DG Agriculture”.
Gatel said he didn’t expect quick progress, considering the huge power of the farming sector in Europe, but he believes things will improve swiftly as the issue of water pricing is now “fully out in the open”.
According to Mike Pocock of Veolia Water UK, identifying polluters is a big problem.
“Having raised the water pricing issue, we’re struggling to find a solution,” he told conference delegates. “Do we tackle it at national or individual level? Do we tackle it through legislation or by addressing manufacturers that supply chemicals to farmers and local authorities?”
“Enforcement is still weak,” added Geoff Bateman of the Environment Agency. “A few farmers can create very large problems.” He advocates a different approach –when general binding rules haven’t delivered solutions, specific guidelines in combination with legislation have the potential to produce better results, he argues.
Pocock believes we have insufficient information and knowledge to change the status quo.
“But I don’t think the current scenario – where consumers are picking up the tab – is the correct one,” he added.