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 and, in its revised version, also the environment and consumers.
The Drinking Water Directive (DWD), an overview
On 25 December 1998, the Drinking Water Directive – DWD (Council Directive 98/83/EC) entered into force.
“This Directive concerns the quality of water intended for human consumption”.
Article 2Council Directive 98/83/EC
“The objective of this Directive shall be 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”.
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 and waters recognised as medicinal products.
The major requirements of the 1998 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 of the EU Commission’s Scientific Advisory Committee.
The DWD indicates 48 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 in any case. Only in exceptional situations, a state is allowed not to follow the requirements of the DWD. Such cases, called derogations, are regulated under article 9 of the DWD. A derogation has to be temporary and can be granted by the EU Commission provided that there is no potential danger to human health and that the supply of water for human consumption in the area can’t be guaranteed otherwise.
- 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 3 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 becomes available and new challenges arise, it is necessary to revise and update Directives to ensure that they remain effective and relevant.
The revision process of European Directives typically takes place on a cyclical basis. This means that Directives are reviewed and updated regularly to take into account new developments in the field and to ensure that they remain effective in achieving their objectives. This process usually involves several stages, including consultation with stakeholders, the preparation of impact assessments, and the adoption of new legislation 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 provides an opportunity for 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 2014 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;
- 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 Member States have 2 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:
- Update of 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
- Derogations re-inclusion
1) Update existing safety standards & the watch list mechanism
The quality parameters requested by the DWD have been updated, including new parameters stricter than those of the WHO and microplastics. These new measures are in articles 3,4,5,6 and Annex I of the DWD.
In general, 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 important development has been the addition of a watch list mechanism. The first watchlist was established 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, and final point of compliance). Four Articles of the revised DWD are about the risk-based approach (RBA), 7,8,9,10.
More specifically, these articles provisioning for the risk assessment and management process are:
- Article 7: risk assessment general principles of application;
- Art 8: about the risk assessment of the catchment areas for the abstraction points, the assessment of potential contamination of drinking water sources;
- Art 9: supply risk assessment, tailored treatment, and tailored monitoring frequencies of drinking water parameters.
- Art 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, also ensuring adequate and up-to-date information on drinking water quality to consumers. 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 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. restaurants).
4) More transparency for consumers on water suppliers’ efficiency, effectiveness, and improvement measures.
The Reviewed DWD pushes for a more coherent and efficient gathering of data on the quality of water supplies and their efficiency and effectiveness. More in detail, the most important provisions are the following:
- Member State shall ensure the performance of a leakage assessment, at least for large water suppliers;
- 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 assessments 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;
- Member States have to inform the public annually about the efficiency and effectiveness of water supplies (e.g. leakage rates).
5) 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, while a substance is the single pollutant used or produced as a result of it.
The first watch list was established in 2021 Jan. with the objective of removing all the materials that can endanger the quality of water.
6) Derogations re-inclusion
Derogations are re-included (Article 15) as well as the Indicators parameters (Article 17):
- 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;
- No derogation can exceed 3 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
In conclusion, the Drinking Water Directive is an important piece of European legislation that governs the quality of water intended for human consumption. The revised version of the DWD, which came into effect in 2021, includes several new elements such as updated safety standards, a risk-based approach, increased transparency for consumers, and provisions on substances in contact with drinking water. The goal of the revised DWD is to improve the level of health protection guaranteed by the Directive and limit its impact on water suppliers. The periodic revision of Directives such as the Drinking Water Directive is an essential aspect of EU legislation as it helps to ensure that Directives remain relevant and effective in achieving their objectives.
If you are interested in learning more about other relevant European Directives related to water services, be sure to check the other relevant pieces of legislation in the EU Water Aquis.