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The EIA held its 2nd European Irrigation industry forum

The EIA held its 2nd European Irrigation industry forum “The proposal for an EU water reuse regulation: a missed opportunity? in Bologna on the 6th of November.

Damir Cizmek, the president of EIA, introduced the day and the challenges of this forum for the association and the industry. Ms. Alessandra Pesce Undersecretary of State at the Italian Ministry of Agricultural, Food, Forestry Policies and Tourism shared the importance of this issue for the Italian government and society.

Water scarcity makes the use of non-conventional water more and more strategic which means increasing the reliability of water supply for agriculture, decreasing of water pollution of use of freshwater. Global effluents will be one of the sources of irrigation to all kinds of crops. The variety in quality for each effluent will require different field use. Hence the absolute importance of effluents monitoring.

Water Reuse is the pillar of circular economy, providing vital solutions in alleviating climate change and growing urbanization effect.  Closing the water loops locally will become a growing concern to make cities more resilient. 30 % of water reuse could happens in or around cities, for agriculture . Iits potential is estimated over 50 Mha.  Today most of the reuse is  of uncontrolled (30 Mha worldwide).

The key issues and challenges in achieving considerable growth in water reuse projects are new policies and adapted regulations, the implementation of innovative technologies and tools, advance in soft science, and continued discussion on social and economic aspects of water reuse.

The refining treatment of reclaimed water at plot entrance, which emerges as one of important concepts, will give perspective of development for irrigation industry and induce development of products and practices aimed at avoiding pathogen survival & regrowth in storage and piping systems.

The professional irrigation sector will therefore have to engage more regularly in discussion over policies and regulations that will define this increasingly important part of the economy.

The European Commission’s proposal for a Regulation on Minimum Requirements for Water Reuse (COM(2018) 337 final) of 25 May 2018) brings about some new concepts such as the implementation of risk management plan with evaluation of the environmental and health risks and requirements for more transparency.

It also aims at stimulating and facilitating the uptake of water reuse for agricultural irrigation and reinforced confidence among consumers towards food produced with reclaimed water. The proposal also intends to boost scientific and technological developments in water treatment and water management.

However, this proposal will inevitably discard important circular economy aspect of nutrient reuse from domestic effluents because of the level of treatment required. The treatment requirements as suggested by the European Commission go beyond what is effectively manageable in practice and outside laboratory conditions.

The Italian example showed that stringent regulations only resulted in the development of indirect/uncontrolled reuse, sometimes from raw water discharged in rivers, instead of direct/managed reuse. The proposal will result in enhanced energy use for treatment, compared to disposal in the environment, and fertilizers production instead of recovery.

Industrial activities, urban practices and landscape irrigation are completely forgotten in this proposal.

The high-level treatment requirements will also induce extra-costs of depuration (around 0.5 to 0.8€/m3). That will consequently result in only higher income activities, such as water reuse for landscapes and golf courses, having the capacity to absorb the extra cost. Yet, the proposal only targets water reuse for agriculture and misses to promote the growth in sectors where social barriers to water reuse are inherently lower. ). The proposal doesn’t tackle the subject of this extra-cost support. 

There is a legitimate concern that this approach may effectively avert the development of water reuse instead of propelling it, much the same as it happened in Australia where similar type of stringent regulations were adopted.

The need for regulation is not questionable but serious revisit of many areas of the current proposal is required before it may create manageable environment for improved water reuse in irrigation in all sectors. 

Following the discussions at the Forum in Bologna, the EIA will update the Position Paper which was sent to the European Commission earlier this year in the process of public consultations (http://irrigationeurope.eu/news/eia-position-paper-eu-commission). The updated document will be sent to relevant units and committees of European Commission, European Parliament and European Council.

Thank you to the speakers Prof. Attilio Toscano of University of Bologna, Adriano Battilani, Secretary General of Irrigants d'Europe, Dr. Valentina Lazarova, Senior Expert of Suez Environment, Bruno Molle, Head of PReSTI, Irstea, UMR-GEAU, Dubi Segal, Product manager & water treatment of Netafim