Directive (EU) 2020/2184 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 2020 on the quality of water intended for human consumption (recast) – The Drinking Water Directive (DWD)
The Drinking Water Directive is the European Directive that concerns the quality of water intended for human consumption. It regulates standards to protect human health, the environment and consumers.
- On 25 December 1998, the Drinking Water Directive – DWD (Council Directive 98/83/EC) entered into force.
- In March 2014, the European Commission – EC announced a review of the DWD as a direct follow-up to the Right2Water European Citizens’ Initiative.
- On 16 December 2020, the European Parliament formally adopted the revised DWD (Directive EU 2020/2184 recast).
- The revised DWD entered into force on 12 January 2021.
- Member States had two years (until 12 January 2023) to transpose it into national legislation.
“This Directive concerns the quality of water intended for human consumption for all the Union”.
“The objectives of this Directive are to protect human health from the adverse effects of any contamination of water intended for human consumption by ensuring that it is wholesome and clean, and to improve access to water intended for human consumption”.
The Drinking Water Directive applies to drinking water and all the distribution systems, despite their size and the number of people supplied. The only waters that do not fall under the DWD are the natural mineral waters (but not spring water) and waters recognised as medicinal products.
The major requirements of the DWD for the Member States are to:
- Monitor Water Quality
- The DWD sets out the quality standards for European drinking water. The standards follow the guidelines of the World Health Organisation and the EU Commission’s Scientific Advisory Committee.
The DWD indicates microbiological, chemical and indicator parameters to be monitored and tested regularly. The standards are binding on all the European Member States. Each state can regulate additional substances or add new standards within its territory but can’t set standards lower than the DWD ones. Only in exceptional situations a Member State is allowed not to follow the requirements of the DWD. Such cases, called derogations, are regulated under Article 15 of the DWD. A derogation has to be temporary and can be granted by the Member States, provided that there is no potential danger to human health and the supply of water for human consumption in the area can’t be guaranteed.
- Inform European Consumers and Commission
The DWD requires each Member State to provide regular information to the consumers and the European Commission. More specifically, the reporting to the European Commission is every three years. Using Member States reports, the European Commission can assess the level of implementation of the DWD and produce synthesis reports.
The revision process
Over time, as new scientific evidence became available and new challenges appeared, revising and updating the Directive was necessary to ensure that it remained effective and relevant. The revision process involved several stages, including consultation with stakeholders, the preparation of impact assessments, and the adoption by the European Parliament and Council.
Cyclical revision is an important aspect of EU legislation. It helps to ensure that Directives remain effective in achieving their objectives and adapting to new challenges. The revision process also allows stakeholders, including water service providers and consumers, to contribute their views and feedback on the Directive and to provide suggestions for improvements. Through the revision process, Directives can be updated and improved to better serve the needs of all EU citizens and to ensure that they remain relevant and effective in the years to come.
The Drinking Water Directive Revision
In March 2014, the European Commission – EC announced a review of the DWD as a direct follow-up to the Right2Water European Citizens’ Initiative.
The DWD revision process identified the following main issues:
- Outdated quality standards;
- Outdated approach (limited reliance on the risk-based approach);
- General lack of awareness of water leakages (driven by underinvestment in maintenance and renewal of water infrastructure);
- Lack of transparency and access to up-to-date information for consumers;
- Complex reporting methods; and
- Around 2 million people (according to the citizens’ initiative) without access to drinking water.
On 16 December 2020, the European Parliament formally adopted the revised DWD (Directive EU 2020/2184 recast). The revised DWD entered into force on 12 January 2021, and the Member States have two years (12 January 2023) to transpose it into national legislation.
The goal of the revision is to improve the level of health protection guaranteed by the DWD and limit the impact of legislation on water suppliers.
The new elements included in the revision are:
- Reinforcement and update of quality and safety standards and the introduction of a watchlist mechanism;
- Establishment of a risk-based approach covering the whole supply chain;
- Obligation for the EU Members to improve or maintain access to safe drinking water for all;
- Obligation for the Member States to provide more transparency for consumers about water supply efficiency;
- Provisions on substances and materials in contact with drinking water;
- Assessment of water leakage levels within their territory and of the potential for improvements in water leakage; and
- Derogations re-inclusion.
1) Update existing safety standards and the watch list mechanism
The quality parameters requested by the DWD have been updated, including new parameters (in line, and, in some cases, stricter than the WHO recommendations) and microplastics. These new measures are in Articles 4,5,6 and Annex I of the DWD.
New parameters on bisphenol A, chlorate, chlorite, haloacetic acids, microcystin, PFFAS and uranium have been inserted, and limits on lead, chromium, selenium and antinomy have been revised.
Another significant development has been the addition of a watch list mechanism. The first watchlist was adopted on 19 January 2022 on Beta-estradiol and Nonylphenol.
2) Introduction of a risk-based approach (RBA)
The RBA introduced in the 2021 revision covers the whole supply chain (catchment area, abstraction, treatment, storage and distribution of water, final point of compliance). Four Articles of the revised DWD are about the risk-based approach (RBA): Articles 7,8,9 and 10.
More specifically, these articles provisioning for the risk assessment and management process are:
- Article 7: risk assessment general principles of application;
- Article 8: about the risk assessment of the catchment areas for the abstraction points, the assessment of potential contamination of drinking water sources;
- Article 9: supply risk assessment, tailored treatment, and tailored monitoring frequencies of drinking water parameters; and
- Article 10: domestic distribution risk assessment, monitoring of risks in pipework (priority premises).
3) Access to water obligation for the Member States
The EU Member States have to improve or maintain access to safe drinking water for all, particularly vulnerable and marginalised groups (Article 16), also ensuring adequate and up-to-date information on drinking water quality to consumers.
4) More transparency for consumers on water suppliers’ efficiency and effectiveness
The Reviewed DWD pushes for a more coherent and efficient gathering of data on the quality of water supplies and their efficiency and effectiveness. All persons supplied with water intended for human consumption must receive the information set in Article 17 regularly and at least once a year, without requesting it.
More specifically, the Revised DWD requires the Member States to:
- Improve and maintain access to water;
- Identify people without or limited access, in particular, vulnerable and marginalised groups and assess possibilities for improving access;
- Inform about the possibilities to connect and take measures the Member States consider necessary and appropriate to ensure access;
- Set up indoor/outdoor equipment in public spaces where technically feasible;
- Promote the use of tap water (e.g., in restaurants).
5) Infrastructure Improvement measures.
The Reviewed DWD aims to tackle water leakages in the water supply networks (Article 4.3). More in detail:
- Member State shall ensure the performance of a leakage assessment, at least for large water suppliers;
- The assessment must be performed using the infrastructural leakage index (ILI) rating method or another appropriate method;
- The results of national assessments have to be communicated to the EU Commission by 12 Jan 2026;
- The EU Commission will set a leakage threshold value (TV) based on assessment results by 12 Jan 2028;
- In case a Member State’s leakage value is higher than the TV, then the Member State has to activate an action plan to address the issue; and
- Member States have to inform the public annually about the efficiency and effectiveness of water supplies (e.g. leakage rates).
6) Provisions on substances and materials in contact with drinking water
Article 11 of the Reviewed DWD is a provision on substances and materials in contact with drinking water. The difference between a material and a substance is that a material is the final product of a process, and a substance is the single pollutant used or produced as a result of it.
The first watch list was adopted in January 2022, with the objective of removing all the materials that can endanger water quality.
7) Derogations re-inclusion and exemptions
The Directive sets exemptions stating when it shall not apply (Article 3) and re-includes Derogations (Article 15):
- Member States can, for a limited time, depart from chemical quality standards specified in the Directive (Annex I) when it does not constitute a potential danger to human health and when the supply of water for human consumption cannot be maintained by any other reasonable means; and
- No derogation can exceed three years. The introduction of the “risk-based approach” to reduce pollution at the source and to manage and monitor drinking water from catchment to consumer
This article is a part of the ‘Water Basics Series,’ a collection of pieces designed to shed light on the water sector and water regulation. To learn more about this vital sector, you can return to the main page of the series and explore other articles.
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