ENVIRONMENT: IMPROVEMENT ON URBAN WASTE WATER FRONT.
The urban waste water treatment Directive (91/271/EEC) is one of the main pillars of the existing EU legislation on water. The aim of the Directive is to protect the environment from the adverse effects of discharges of urban waste water. It requires Member States to ensure that such water is collected and treated according to strict standards. The main adverse effects of insufficiently treated waste water are pollution of drinking water resources, the ecological disturbance of the rivers and lakes (eutrophication), as well as dispersion of pathogens in bathing waters and shellfish waters. December, 31, 1998 was the European deadline for providing collection and advanced treatment systems in all urban centres with more than 10,000 population equivalents discharging to sensitive waters*.
The Commission has just published the first implementation report under this Directive. The report indicates the state of the legal transposition of the Directive and presents the investments forecasts by Member States for the period of implementation (1993-2005). The report explains how Member States have transposed the Directive - sometimes with significant delays, and established implementation programmes. It also shows the sensitive - and less sensitive - areas identified by the Member States. The findings reflect the serious intention of most Member States to tackle the issue of urban waste water in order to improve the quality of aquatic environment for the benefit of public health and the environment.
Delays in Brussels and Milan.
For the moment two notable exceptions stand out: Brussels and Milan have announced to be unable to respect the end-of-1998 deadline. These two major cities of the EU have no waste water treatment system at all. In Brussels, untreated waste water from the entire urban centre is discharged directly to the river Senne which, within the city district, has been covered to avoid diseases and smells, but downstream of Brussels can be considered more of an open sewer than a river. The Senne feeds into the river Schelde, which pollutes the heavily eutrophic coastal waters of the North Sea. According to the Belgian authorities, the collection and treatment network of Brussels will not fulfil the requirements of the Directive before 2003 or 2004, corresponding to a delay of some five or six years. On that basis, the Commission decided, in December last year, to send off a reasoned opinion to the Belgian authorities.
Concerning Milan, all the waste water from the urban centre (where nearly 3 million people live or work) is discharged directly into the river Lambro, a tributary of the river Po. The river Lambro is considered one of the most polluted rivers of Italy. The adverse effect of the river Lambro on the Po is significant because bathing or irrigation has been forbidden, and fish cannot survive. The Adriatic Sea is heavily eutrophic due partially to the pollution discharged from the river Po. The Milan waste waters will not be treated before 2003, according to information given by the Italian authorities. As concerns the lack of transposition in Italy the EU's Court of Justice gave a first judgement on December 12, 1996 for non-transposition of the Directive. Last December, the Commission decided to propose to the Court a daily penalty of Euro 185.850 against Italy for non compliance with this judgement, under the procedure laid down in Article 171 of the Treaty (see European Report No 2367).
The end-1998 deadline for the urban waste water Directive concerns more than a third of the European waste water and was also the deadline for regulating the disposal of sludge produced by the waste water treatment and for phasing out the disposal of sludge to surface waters. Discharges of sludge to the sea were the usual way of disposal in Spain, Ireland and the UK. The two subsequent deadlines are: December 31, 2000 when urban centres of more than 15,000 population equivalents that discharge into water areas which are less sensitive should provide for collection and secondary (that is, biological) treatment. December 31, 2005 when the smaller urban centres should comply with the Directive.
The EU-wide costs of the implementation has been estimated to Euro 150 billion (value 1994/1995) during the period 1993-2005. In regions of lagging development, EU aid under the Structural funds and the Cohesion Fund is granted to support the investment.
* Population equivalent: measurement unit for waste water pollution, equalling the average daily pollution produced per one person.