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Urban waste water treatment

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Assessment made on  15 Oct 2003

Generic metadata


Water Water (Primary theme)

DPSIR: Pressure


Indicator codes
  • WEU 016
Geographic coverage:

Policy issue:  How effective are existing policies in reducing loading of nutrients andorganic matter?


Key assessment

The Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (91/271/EEC) is an important Community water policy and its aim is to protect the environment from the adverse effects of urban waste water discharges. The directive sets minimum standards for the collection, treatment and disposal of waste water dependent upon the size of the agglomeration, and the type and sensitivity of the receiving waters. The directive has some important deadlines. The following assessment of the implementation of the directive is based on the Commission's report 2002 on Member States' implementation of the directive.

By 30 June 1993, the directive had to be transposed into national law. Many Member States were late in transposing the directive, the last being Italy in 1999.

Member States were required to identify sensitive areas at the latest by 31 December 1993. Sensitive areas are surface waters which may become eutrophic if protective action is not taken; drinking waters with nitrate exceeding standards and areas where further treatment is required to comply with other directives (for example, bathing waters or shellfish waters). Six Member States have decided to apply stringent (tertiary) treatment over all their territory (all sensitive areas); nine other Member States have identified certain water bodies in their territory as a sensitive area. These areas were identified, with a greater or lesser degree of delay, between 1994 and 1999.

By 31 December 1998, Member States were required to ensure that waste water treatment facilities with stringent (tertiary) treatment were available for all agglomerations with a population equivalent greater than 10 000 where the effluent was being discharged into a sensitive area. Major delays in implementing have been found in most Member States. Taking the 3 243 agglomerations in which Member States have decided to provide tertiary treatment out of some 20 000 agglomerations affected by the directive, only Denmark and Austria were in a situation very close to conformity on 31 December 1998 and eight countries were far from conformity. However, most Member States had plans to achieve conformity in these agglomerations over the next few years.

A large number of the 527 cities with more than 150 000 population equivalents did not have a sufficient standard of treatment by the end of 1998 (Figure 3.30). A total of 37 had no treatment at all, including Brussels, Milan and Porto; while a total of 57 others including Aberdeen, Athens, Barcelona, Dublin, Florence, Liège and Marseille were still discharging a large part of their effluents untreated or had a very clearly insufficient level of treatment in place. The situation is, however, generally improving and some of these cities made the necessary investment in 1999-2002, or plan to complete work soon.


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