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The EU drinking water directive: a comprehensive guide

Updated: Feb 29

A BactoSense in an industrial setting.

Consider the EU’s Drinking Water Directive (DWD) as the water quality and safety guardian. This ensures that a refreshing, natural drink will maintain our well-being and prevent unwanted health issues. As technology gets updated, so do our laws and regulations. Since the EU decided that some of the current rules leaned on the old-fashioned side, such as using outdated approaches, these new DWD revisions allow us to keep our water safer in a modern way.

Let’s explore this directive's intricacies, its evolution, key articles, and the recent updates that revolutionise how we perceive and manage our water sources.

The essence of the Drinking Water Directive

The main objective of the DWD is to safeguard the quality of water intended for human consumption. While it’s focused on the EU, it’s still a framework meant to guarantee safe drinking water for everyone. It also goes beyond clean water: it ensures our drinking water contributes positively to our health and the environment. 

All in all, these objectives, which started in 1998, aim to protect human health from any potential contamination in our water and make this life-sustaining resource more accessible. 

Understanding key articles

The key features involve a stricter monitoring procedure for protecting drinking water as a resource and a more systematic use of technology to monitor water quality continuously. By considering an automated, online water-monitoring tool, you can stay compliant with the EU directive and ensure safe drinking water for all.

Unveiling recent revisions

  1. New quality standards: stricter monitoring procedures protect drinkable water as a resource. 

  2. Risk-based approach (RBA): a complete, risk-based approach to water safety covers the whole supply chain - from the catchment area, abstraction, treatment, storage and distribution to compliance. 

  3. Access to water for everyone: part of the Right2Water initiative involved universal (global) access to water and sanitation, particularly for vulnerable groups. 

  4. Transparency for you: gathering data on water quality and the efficient and effective supply allows consumers to obtain regular updates, keeping the public and you informed and empowered. 

  5. Fixing leaks: a higher awareness of water leakage is needed to increase the investment in maintenance and water infrastructure renewal. 

  6. Materials in contact with water: drinking water needs to keep humans healthy. The taste and smell of drinking water cannot be impaired, nor should there be high concentrations of microbiological growth.

  7. Exemptions and special cases: provided no potential danger to human health exists, temporary departures from specific chemical quality standards are available. 

Diving deep, here are some recap of the articles to consider:

Article 4: Member States must ensure that water for human consumption is safe and clean. That means water must be free from harmful microorganisms, parasites and substances that could threaten human health. Implementing these measures should ensure water quality and prevent an increase in pollution. Water leakage levels must also be assessed. Article 5: Member States are responsible for establishing specific values for water intended for human consumption, and these values are established primarily for monitoring purposes and to ensure compliance. Article 6: water quality standards must be met if the water is supplied from a distribution network or tanker, as bottled water, or for use in a food business, and specific points are identified within premises or establishments. If there is a risk of non-compliance, appropriate measures must be taken to reduce or eliminate the risk, advising property owners and implementing treatment techniques if needed. Also, consumers must be informed of any additional remedial actions they should take to ensure safe water consumption.

Article 7: the risk-based approach ensures the safety of water intended for human consumption, and it covers the entire water supply chain, including catchment areas, treatment, storage and distribution up to the compliance point. Member States must conduct risk assessments and implement risk management strategies for various stages, such as catchment areas and supply and domestic distribution systems. Flexibility is allowed for adaptation based on geographical constraints, and clear responsibilities must be defined.

Article 8: outlines the process of assessing and managing risks in water catchment areas. Member States must conduct a comprehensive risk assessment, including mapping catchment areas, identifying potential hazards and monitoring parameters like pollutants. This information is crucial for safeguarding the quality of water intended for human consumption. Water suppliers conducting monitoring must inform authorities of any concerning trends. Based on the risk assessment, Member States must implement preventive and mitigation measures, ensuring ongoing monitoring. Transparency is emphasised with water suppliers and authorities having access to relevant information. The effectiveness of implemented measures must be periodically reviewed. This meticulous approach ensures the safety of drinking water from its source.

Article 9: mandates Member States to ensure that water suppliers conduct risk assessments and implement risk management for the entire water supply system. This includes evaluating hazards, such as those related to climate change, leakages and treatment processes. Control measures, operational monitoring and validation of disinfection efficiency are stipulated to maintain water quality. This article also highlights the importance of reviewing the risk assessment periodically. 

These articles emphasise a proactive and thorough approach to ensuring water safety at its source, through the supply system, and within domestic distribution networks. 

Article 14: Member States must establish monitoring programmes to ensure that water intended for human consumption regularly meets safety standards. These programmes would be tailored to specific water supplies, considering the outcomes of risk assessments. Parameters like pollutants, substances on a watch list, and those identified through risk assessments must be monitored. Sampling points and analysis methods must meet specified requirements. The directive emphasises flexibility in choosing analysis methods, provided they are as reliable as specified ones. Member States must also conduct additional monitoring for substances without set values if there are concerns about potential health risks. The article introduces the concept of a watch list for substances of concern, like pharmaceuticals and microplastics, with guidance values. Member States must consider preventive measures, additional monitoring, treatment optimisation and remedial actions to protect human health. The directive includes deadlines for implementing these measures and calls for continuous updates and assessments.

Maintaining quality water with Norrvatten

Recently, Norrvatten, a major Swedish producer, devised innovative guidelines for maintaining drinking water quality in alignment with the DWD. This was a response to new regulations the Swedish National Food Agency set. They shift from traditional HPC analysis to flow cytometry, enabling a more comprehensive evaluation of cultivated microorganisms in water. 

This aligns with EU directives emphasising a risk-based approach and dynamic water quality management. Norrvatten’s guidelines include alarm limits. They could establish them through a curve using three-day cultivable microorganism data from the last few years and set them with flow cytometric baselines for bacterial counts in the distribution network.

They’ve successfully applied these guidelines to assess new pipelines, optimising the evaluation process. Norrvatten anticipates a future where flow cytometry supersedes traditional methods, emphasising trends over concentrations. Their proactive approach ensures they remain at the forefront of water quality management, integrating advanced technologies and adapting to evolving regulations. 

The road ahead: ensuring sustainable water management

The DWD is continuously evolving. It must constantly adapt to scientific advancements and emerging challenges to commit to effective water management. Overall, it’s clear: we have a collective responsibility towards water safety. 

Whether understanding the nuances of risk-based approaches or championing transparency in water supply, each component plays a crucial role in shaping a sustainable and secure water future for all. By staying informed and actively participating in the journey towards water safety, we contribute to a healthier and more sustainable world. 

If you’d like to make the best use of this DWD revision but don’t know where to start, our team will gladly support you. Contact us to help you out.


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