World Water Day: The Right to Water

European citizens have a right to access good quality water, but EU efforts to date have fallen short of turning this principle into action, argues Eleonora Evi.
Adobe stock

By Eleonora Evi

Eleonora Evi (IT, Greens/EFA) was a signatory of Parliament’s resolution on Implementation of the EU Water Legislation

22 Mar 2021

I strongly believe that every citizen has the right to access good quality water, as requested by the European Citizens’ Initiative “Right to Water”, which has collected over 1.6 million signatures. Unfortunately, the recently revised Directive on drinking water failed to fully recognise the principle of full and free access to water by limiting it to a rather generic purpose of improving access to water. The Directive also fails to clearly end the liberalisation of water services as requested in the European Citizens’ Initiative.

I was quite upset by this missed opportunity to put citizens’ demands for guaranteed universal and free access to water into EU legislation. Parliament’s resolution on the implementation of the EU water legislation, which I co-signed, calls on Member States to make greater efforts to ensure full implementation of the Water Directive, the precautionary principle and the polluter pays principle. I find it particularly relevant that, in the Resolution, Parliament calls on the Commission to set a timetable for the phasing out of all non-essential uses of Perfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFAS).

Furthermore, it seeks to stimulate the development of safe and nonpersistent alternatives for all uses of PFAS, as well as take action to address the problem of other pollutants, including residues of pesticides, drugs, endocrine disruptors, and microplastics. Sadly, the Veneto region in Northeast Italy is known for the significant amounts of PFAS pollution caused by a chemical industry that has been operating in the region since the 1960s. These compounds are used in industrial fields which - in addition to accumulating in the environment - also persist in living organisms, including humans, where they can be toxic at high concentrations.

“We need to urgently change our production and consumption patterns and speed up the transition to a real circular economy, where resources are reused and products made to last”

Because of their persistent characteristics, they are described as ‘forever chemicals’. I believe that the EU should have taken the brave and right decision to ban all PFAS, in order to protect citizens and the environment. Even if - for the first time - the Drinking Water Directive requires Member States to tackle the presence of endocrine disruptors, drugs and microplastics in water, the limit of 0.1 micrograms per litre as the maximum threshold in all European countries for the presence of PFAs in drinking water is still too high. Moreover, this concerns only 20 of the 4700 PFAS.

The Commission promised, within the next three years, to develop a method to measure all of them and propose a new limit for all 4700 substances. In its Biodiversity Strategy, the Commission pointed to the need to protect our rivers and ecosystems by minimising the pressure on waters and restoring the natural functions of rivers. To achieve this goal, it is essential to end EU subsidies for new hydroelectric plants, exclude new plants from the list of renewable energy sources eligible for State Aid and finally ban hydroelectric power plants in protected areas.

Hydropower plants can severely affect freshwater ecosystems, including fish migration and habitat loss. Moreover, the contribution of small hydropower plants to renewable energy is limited, while their impact on nature and biodiversity is important. Another big threat to our seas and rivers is plastic pollution. Every year, 570,000 tons of plastic ends up in the Mediterranean Sea, the equivalent of 33,000 bottles per minute. This is unacceptable.

We need to change our production and consumption patterns and speed up the transition to a real circular economy, where resources are reused and products made to last.

Read the most recent articles written by Eleonora Evi - EU transition to green urban transport starts with citizens