Posted by Albert Berenguel - 02 September, 2022
Drought is a serious problem that can no longer be ignored. While acknowledging that there is no easy solution, this blog explains three essential measures that can help reduce the impact of water scarcity.
Severe droughts are not just a problem for Southern European countries anymore. In 2022, they have also affected northern and central European regions, leading to restrictions on water use.
Dwindling water resources not only affects households and industry, but also lead to other problems such as the loss of wetlands, desertification, low river flows, and the intrusion of salt water into coastal aquifers.
The first step in rising to these challenges is to recognise that clever use of water resources is vital to ensure our survival as humans. The second step is to act: reduce consumption, refurbish infrastructure, and reuse wastewater before it is too late and a drought emergency is declared.
REduce water consumption
According to the European Environment Agency(2), around 266 billion m³ of water was extracted in Europe in 2017 of which around 40 % was consumed and 60 % was returned to the environment, having been physically or chemically altered to some extent.
The obvious way to face water scarcity is to apply measures that will reduce water consumption. In our homes, that could mean fixing a leak, turning off the tap while brushing our teeth, or showering instead of bathing. Fully loading the dishwasher or washing machine also reduces water use. Measures to reduce water consumption could include installing water-efficient taps and appliances, replacing single-flush toilets with dual-flush ones, and ensuring that any leaks or dripping taps are fixed immediately.
Office buildings, schools, hotels, hospitals, restaurants, and other commercial and institutional facilities use water and energy in their daily operations. As water is no longer a free resource, owners and managers of these buildings have recognised that efficient use of water delivers significant economic benefits and reduces the risk of water shortages.
REfurbish infrastructure to avoid losses
Ageing water infrastructure and a lack of investment in its maintenance and renewal of wastes resources due to water losses can lead to falling quality standards in water supply and sanitation services.
The European Environment Agency (7) estimates that drinking water losses from distribution systems amount to an average of 30% in most countries, reaching 70-80% in some cities. Repairing leaking infrastructure is a measure that is already available to us and which can significantly reduce water scarcity.
According to EUREAU(5), European water service providers invest EUR 45 billion annually in infrastructure, which is spent on repairing leaks and regular maintenance activities. However, some experts believe that we should double this investment to modernise our infrastructure, protect health and the environment, and reduce water leakages (6).
Infrastructure investments are financed through the 3Ts: Tariffs, Taxes, and Transfers. Since the cost of water losses is not usually passed on in tariff prices, governments and suppliers are often confronted with limited financial resources to invest in maintenance and renovation, with the public unaware of how much water is lost annually from the network.
Read about the refurbishment of a water channel in Italy using Master Builders Solutions' innovative eco-efficient solutions here.
REuse treated wastewater
Recycling water reduces the demand for freshwater and limits uncontrolled discharges into the environment. Recycling delivers other advantages, too: it reduces transportation costs, as the process can be done close to where the water is needed, and seasonal effects do not impact it.
Recognising these benefits, the European Commission adopted the so-called Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) in November 2010, which establishes that "Industrial production processes account for a considerable share of the overall pollution in Europe due to their emissions of air pollutants, discharges of wastewater and the generation of waste" (1,3).
The IED(4) determines conditions and legal requirements for installations to operate, including the reuse of treated wastewater which has become not only an environmental imperative but a legal requirement too.
Read our blog: Embracing the circular economy – high-performing membranes for industrial water treatment plants to get more insights about the reuse of water in industrial plants and the Master Builders Solutions systems for waterproofing clean and potable water tanks, for protection of concrete in contact with process water, and for waterproofing of industrial wastewater treatment plants.
Solving drought problems brought on by climate change is not an easy task, nor is there a "silver bullet" that would fix things immediately.
It requires a change of mentality and an understanding that drinking water's extraction, transport, and purification have a cost that cannot be ignored, as does the collection and treatment of wastewater, whatever its origin.
The facilities and infrastructure that ensure effective water supply and treatment must be maintained and renewed to avoid even higher costs to society in the future. All these activities will require more investment because water is neither an unlimited resource nor a free one.
- Water Europe. Technology and Innovation. "A new industrial emissions directive." March 2011.
- European Environment Agency. "Use of freshwater resources in Europe." Available at: https://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/indicators/use-of-freshwater-resources-3/assessment-4
- EU Commission. Industrial Emissions Directive. Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/environment/industry/stationary/ied/legislation.htm
- EUR-Lex. "Directive 2010/75/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 November 2010 on industrial emissions (integrated pollution prevention and control)". Available at: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=celex%3A32010L0075
- EUREAU. Briefing note. "Drinking water supply and leakage management." May 2021 Available at: https://www.eureau.org/resources/briefing-notes/5735-eureau-briefing-note-on-drinking-water-supply-and-leakage-management/file
- EURACTIV. Klara Ramm. "Time to invest in Europe's water infrastructure." Updated 8 May 2018. Available at: https://www.euractiv.com/section/energy-environment/opinion/time-to-invest-in-europes-water-infrastructure/
- European Environment Agency. "The problems of water stress." Updated 23.11.2020. Available at: https://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/92-9167-025-1/page003.html