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Urban wastewater treatment

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Urban wastewater treatment

This European Union (EU) law seeks to ensure the proper treatment of wastewater so as to protect human health and the environment.

ACT

Council Directive 91/271/EEC of 21 May 1991 concerning urban wastewater treatment.

SUMMARY

This European Union (EU) law seeks to ensure the proper treatment of wastewater so as to protect human health and the environment.

WHAT DOES THIS DIRECTIVE DO?

Aimed at protecting the aquatic environment from the adverse effects (such as eutrophication*) of urban wastewater, it sets out EU-wide rules for collection, treatment and wastewater discharge. The law also covers wastewater generated by industries such as the agro-food industries (like food-processing and brewing).

KEY POINTS

EU countries must:

collect and treat wastewater in urban settlements with a population of at least 2 000 and apply secondary treatment* on the collected wastewaters;

apply more advanced treatment in urban settlements with populations over 10 000 located in designated sensitive areas*;

guarantee that treatment plants are properly maintained, so as to ensure sufficient performance, and can operate under all normal weather conditions;

require authorisation for discharges of urban wastewater from the agro-food industry and from industrial discharges into urban wastewater collecting systems;

take measures to limit the pollution of receiving waters from storm water overflows under extreme situations, such as unusually heavy rain;

monitor the performance of treatment plants and receiving waters;

monitor sewage sludge disposal and re-use.

As well as outlining methods for the monitoring and evaluation of results, Annex I lists general requirements for:

collecting systems;

discharges from urban wastewater treatment plants, including emission limit values for these;

industrial wastewater discharged into urban collecting systems.

Annex II describes the criteria for the identification of sensitive and less sensitive areas.

A European Commission 2013 report notes that despite the improvements that have already been made, the implementation of this law remains a challenge, mainly because of the major infrastructure investment involved.

WHEN DOES THE DIRECTIVE APPLY?

From 29 May 1991, with several different deadlines for the various requirements. In 1998, the Commission adopted Directive 98/15/EC to clarify some of the rules due to differing interpretations in EU countries. This came into force on 27 March 1998. Other deadlines apply to countries that joined the EU from 2004 onwards. These are specified in the Accession Treaties with each of the countries concerned.

KEY TERMS

Eutrophication: refers to water becoming enriched by nutrients - like compounds of phosphorus and nitrogen - disrupting the water’s balance of organisms and, in general, the quality of water.

Secondary treatment: waste water treatment by a process usually involving biological treatment (using aerobic bacteria, enzymes, etc.) with a secondary settlement or other process, which respects the directive’s requirements in Annex I.

Sensitive areas: (i) water bodies at risk of eutrophication, (ii) surface waters for drinking containing more than 50 mg/litre of nitrates, and (iii) areas where further treatment is needed to comply with EU legislation on, for example, water, bathing water, shellfish waters and the conservation of habitats and birds.

BACKGROUND

For more information, see the European Commission’s Urban Waste Water Directive overview website.

REFERENCES

Act

Entry into force

Deadline for transposition in the Member States

Official Journal

Directive 91/271/EEC

19.6.1991

30.6.1993

OJ L 135 of 30.5.1991, pp. 40-52

Amending act(s)

Entry into force

Deadline for transposition in the Member States

Official Journal

Directive 98/15/EC

27.3.1998

30.9.1998

OJ L 67 of 7.3.1998, pp. 29-30

RELATED ACTS

Commission Implementing Decision 2014/431/EU of 26 June 2014 concerning formats for reporting on the national programmes for the implementation of Council Directive 91/271/EEC (Official Journal L 197 of 4.7.2014, pp. 77-86).

Report from the Commission - Implementation of Council Directive 91/271/EEC of 21 May 1991 concerning urban wastewater treatment, as amended by Commission Directive 98/15/EC of 27 February 1998 - Summary of the measures implemented by the Member States and assessment of the information received pursuant to Articles 17 and 13 of the Directive (COM(98) 775 final of 15.1.1999).

Commission Report - Implementation of Council Directive 91/271/EEC of 21 May 1991 concerning urban wastewater treatment, as amended by Commission Directive 98/15/EC of 27 February 1998 (COM(2001) 685final of 21.11.2001).

Report from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions:- Implementation of Council Directive 91/271/EEC of 21 May 1991 concerning urban wastewater treatment, as amended by Commission Directive 98/15/EC of 27 February 1998 (COM(2004) 248final of 23.4.2004).

Report from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions - Seventh report on the implementation of the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (91/271/EEC) (COM(2013) 574 final of 7.8.2013).

Commission Staff Working Document - Accompanying document to the Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council - ‘Towards Sustainable Water Management in the European Union’ - First stage in the implementation of the Water Framework Directive 2000/60/EC [COM(2007) 128 final] [SEC(2007) 363] (SEC(2007) 362 final of 22.3.2007).

Commission Staff Working Document - 5th Commission Summary on the Implementation of the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (SEC(2009) 1114 final of 3.8.2009).

Commission Staff Working Document - 6th Commission Summary on the Implementation of the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (SEC(2011) 1561 final of 7.12.2011).

Last updated: 20.04.2015

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