March 26th, we hosted our first webinar in the subthematic series of 4. Webinar ‘Water Solutions #1: Clean Water and Ecosystem Restoration’ showed interest by over 250 participants. The driving question for the webinar was: “How do we ensure ecosystem balance in watersheds while managing water quality requirements?”
In the light of recent uncertainties and frequent water quality related trade-offs and challenges, focus on freshwater ecosystems and their restoration will help bring the focus towards biodiversity, visionary goals of swimmable and drinkable rivers, and financial incentives needed to bring this change.
Six speakers – Hans Stielstra (European Commission), Li An Phoa (Drinkable Rivers), Bilel Afrit (SIAAP) and Fawzi Bedridene (OMVS Senegal River), Stuart Orr (WWF) and Erik Roesink (NX Filtration) – shared their perspective on this topic. Below you’ll find the report of the webinar. Please click here if you like to see the video we recorded during the event.
Standards around water quality: Water Frameworks Directive
Hans Stielstra, Deputy Head of Clean Water Unit, European Commission, shared the common standards in Europe for water quality in all types of water systems: surface water, ground water as well as coastal waters, called ‘Water Framework Directives’ (WFD). WFD focusses on a wide range of indicators and parameters associated with water quality; hydromorphological, chemical and physiochemical.
Evaluation of the EU member states’ water quality situations in 2019, resulted in the understanding of WFD as a Fit for Purpose legislation. However, there were a few challenges that member states were facing in implementation of the standards. Firstly, with the scientific discovery of new substances like microplastics, and others causing stress in water bodies is currently not regulated. Therefore, urban waste water directive and city waste water directive needs to be amended in near future to include these menacing substances. Secondly, Hans emphasised the importance of financial investments in water management and ecosystem restoration with other policy areas also addressing the crucial role of water.
Looking ahead for WFD goals and targets in future, Hans mentioned: “Less than half of the targets from EU member states have been fulfilled as of now. A lot of work still needs to be done together by member states”. Thus, other policy areas like agriculture, energy and others also need to emphasise the central role of water in their systems.
River systems, ecosystem balance and actions taken: Meuse, Seine and Senegal basins
Li An Phoa, founder of Mayors for drinkable rivers, shared the drive behind the connectivity of mayors from the basin cities of Belgium, France and Netherlands around Meuse river basin. “Water doesn’t come from taps, but from ecosystems,” she mentioned. Mayors being the bridge between local and regional institutions and people, the journey for Drinkable rivers must engage Mayors first. Swimmable rivers is an intermediate milestone but the major goal in long-term ecosystem restoration should be to achieve Drinkable rivers, she added. Li An emphasised that apart from the need of mobilising the institutions and professionals, mobilising the people to collectively focus on their everyday actions and water needs is crucial for ecosystem health.
Bringing the perspective of Seine river basin from Paris Water utility (SIAAP), Bilel Afrit, Water Policy Officer, focussed on the short term driving goal and long-term vision for the river. He added that Paris Olympics 2024 currently is the short term goal that is driving them towards Zero default sanitation systems, storm water management and Swimmable Seine. He discussed on the existing challenges to achieve these goals which are two folded- firstly misconnections in the water and sanitation systems leads to waste discharge directly into the rivers. Secondly, the technical difficulties around WFD legislation which also enhances due to population and other urban challenges.
He ensured that the current policy measures for Swimmable Seine river also fulfils the WFD standard requirements, providing them the necessary boost to continue their actions in the long-run.
Fawzi Bedridene, Regional Coordinator for OMVS Senegal river, discussed the role of OMVS as a governing institution, focussing on local stakeholders and the role of Diama Dam in restoring water levels. The focus of OMVS is to strengthen and structure water management practices through participatory and sustainable actions. In order to bring the local users participation in decision-making, a water user association was created where local and regional actors voice their needs and demands.
Outlining the challenges faced in the management of Senegal river basin, Fawzi mentioned the proliferation of aquatic weeds hindering the Diama Dam operation and Water-borne diseases like malaria affecting population health.
Ecosystem Balance: challenges and practices
Stuart Orr, Practice lead Freshwater, World Wildlife Fund for Nature, focussed on the declining state of freshwater ecosystems and aquatic species. He iterated the focus from World Water Day on ‘Valuing Water’ and urged stakeholders to open up bigger conversations around ‘Valuing rivers’ with macro-perspectives. He added: “Challenge that we face now is to incentivise the investors and companies to make sure these ecosystems are valued and prioritised.”
Some of the actions that can be implemented to incentivise good practices by municipalities, companies and utilities is through regulatory or tax benefit ways, certifications for water stewardship and rewarding innovators for localised solutions.
Integrated solutions: nanofilteration membranes for waste water treatment and reuse
Erik Roesink, founder of NX Filteration technologies and Professor of Advanced Membranes for Aqueous Applications at University of Twente, shared his breakthrough technological solution: nanofilteration membranes, filtering unwated waste like micropollutants and residual medicines out of our water systems. Currently, the utilities and municipalities with lack of financial investment and opportunities tend to flush the water bodies to dispose off these substances. His innovative end-of-pipe solution, however uses the ‘Value of Water’ and considers the biggest benefit of waste water treatment as water recovery itself.
This webinar showcased European water quality legislation, Water Frameworks Directive as an example of policy measures. Different transboundary river basin systems, swimmable and drinkable objectives, stakeholder perspectives and challenges were discussed for Meuse, Seine and Senegal rivers. The importance of freshwater ecosystems and declining biodiversity was exemplified by understanding about their ecosystem services like fishing and drinking water supply. The webinar also shared one of the integrated solutions and its technological advancement through nanofilteration membranes for waste water treatment and reuse.
In interaction during the webinar and after, several conclusions were drawn.
- Importance of water quality management and initiatives should be encouraged at the national and regional governance levels.
- Simplification of Water Framework directives for inclusive policies and practices will support in reaching its targets not just at technical level but at community level.
- Emphasis on joint vision and joint action by all stakeholders of the river basin system for long-term ecosystem health and benefits.
- For cross-boundary management of water resources, it is essential to include local stakeholders in decision-making in an iterative manner.
- Refocussing on incentivising and rewarding good practices by cities, utilities and industries especially in the area of digitization and technological innovations.
- Industries are triggered towards water reuse, adopting certifications and standards for long-term benefits. However, due to lack of financial investment in municipality and utility waste treatment systems, systemic impact is not achieved. Hence financial investment and interest is vital in restoring ecosystems and achieving swimmable and drinkable water quality standards.
The end goal of the webinar was to stimulate new coalitions between participants bridging between challenges and solutions. As a result, actors from Meuse and Seine river basins will explore possibilities to work together on swimmable and drinkable river goals.
Next webinar: Water Solutions #2: Reuse, Recycle and Recover
April 30th, our next webinar will take place. This second webinar focus on Reuse, Recycle and Recover. Expect good practices on water efficiency and wastewater reuse and an in-depth dialogue on how we need to govern, finance and legislate this transition. Bart Krull is our moderator; confirmed as speakers are prof. Mark van Loosdrecht (Delft University of Technology), Dimitros Xevgenos (Zero Brine) and a contribution by Heineken. More speakers to be announced. For more information and to register click here