Why should we care about this issue
It is estimated that only 30 % of surface water will comply with the EU’s 2015 targets for chemical and biological quality as determined under the EU Water Framework Directive. The stakes are therefore high for water quality in Luxembourg. Moreover, Luxembourg did not sufficiently protect its drinking water sources that have been contaminated by agricultural activities.
The continuous significant demographic growth that Luxembourg experienced these last 25 years - and that will most likely go on in the future - is another threat on water resources and quality.
This is why, end 2008, an ambitious law - the Water Act - has been promulgated to consolidate water legislation and transpose the EU Water Framework Directive and Floods Directive into national law.
In Luxembourg, at least 70 % of surface water is likely to fall short of the EU’s 2015 targets for chemical and biological quality as determined under the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD). With regard to drinking water, sources have not yet been protected, despite a legal obligation to do so dating back more than 15 years. According to the application of the Ground Water Directive 2 of 5 ground water bodies are considered to be in poor qualitative status regarding nitrates and pesticides. Moreover, rural development policies have focused more on farm modernisation and the continued use of agricultural land than on the targeted protection of water resources.
The state and impacts
The state and impacts, drivers and pressures need to be examined from different angles: water supply, groundwater and surface water quality and flooding.
The usage intensity of available resources in households, industry and agriculture is relatively low compared to other developed countries, reflecting the low level of abstractions for agriculture. Daily household consumption is 140 litres per capita. There is little loss through leakage and many of the water supply systems have been upgraded over the last 10 years.
Ground water provides 57 % of the 47 million m3 of drinking water used annually in Luxembourg. In the southern industrial region, industries and utilities must draw from the water table of the Luxembourg sandstone aquifer, located in the centre of the country, and from the Esch-sur-Sûre reservoir in the north to cover their water needs. Under the Water Act, there must be a balance between depletion and renewal of underground water sources so that they will be in good condition no later than 2015. The preference given to surface tapping over groundwater pumping eliminates the risk of over-exploitation of the sandstone aquifer, which supplies more than half of the country’s drinking water. On the other hand, the Esch-sur-Sûre reservoir, which provides 43 % of the water supply to public utilities in Luxembourg, is in a critical state of eutrophication.
While the demand for water from industry has decreased with the improvement of industrial processes, notably in the metallurgy sector, household consumption has increased by 1.35 % per year over the last 15 years, reflecting the country’s strong demographic growth and the steady increase in cross-border workers.
Surface water quality
According to the Water Act, all surface water bodies must be protected, improved or restored to meet the definition of “good status” by the end of 2015. However, it is estimated that at least 72 % of surface water bodies (watercourses and reservoirs) will not meet the 2015 chemical and biological quality targets under the EU Water Framework Directive. While the pollution level in watercourses has decreased slightly in recent years, 39 % of watercourses are still heavily polluted and 54 % moderately polluted.
With regard to new contaminants, the watercourses of the Alzette and the Mess, located in industrialised and heavily populated environments, have been found to contain xenobiotic pollution from antibiotics, analgesics and hormones. There are several xenobiotic pollutants coming from diffuse pollution that are found in all major watercourses. These pollutants can not be eliminated by the existing purification plants.
Under the terms of the Water Act, all bodies of groundwater must be protected, improved and restored to “good status” by the end of 2015. The main groundwater pollutants are nitrates and pesticides. The nitrogen content at the national level has decreased considerably since the early 1990s, dropping from 200 kg N/hectare to 111 kg N/hectare in 2004 (last available year). However, a recent study showed that 40 % of the surface area that drains into drinking water sources discharges water containing 25-50 mg/l of nitrates. Moreover, some of the sources show a clear trend towards deterioration. At the national level, half of the nitrogen input comes from the use of chemical fertilisers, and a third from livestock effluents; the rest is atmospherically deposited. In up to 90 % of the monitored ground water sampling sites pesticides are detected, sometimes at concentrations that exceed the threshold value of 100 ng/litre. This indicates that not only is the Luxembourg sandstone aquifer more vulnerable to pollution than the aquifers of neighbouring regions, but also that there is a lack of protection for the abstraction areas.
Flooding is the most serious natural hazard in Luxembourg, both because of the damage it causes and because of the number of municipalities affected. In recent decades, Luxembourg has suffered numerous bouts of flooding, in 1983 along the Moselle and in 1993, 1995 and 2003 in the Sûre basin. Since 1995, the Government has been covering 50 % of the cost of flood control measures.
The key drivers and pressures
Presented together with the 'State and Impacts'.
The 2020 outlook
The population of Luxembourg looks set to continue increasing. It is estimated that by 2024 it could reach 560 000 to 605 000 inhabitants, giving rise to an overall increase in the demand for drinking water (estimated at between 47 and 51 million m3). To ensure an adequate supply of drinking water, new sources (underground and surface) will have to be developed.
Existing and planned responses
In 1999, the Government of Luxembourg opted for a comprehensive water management policy, designed to consolidate the various aspects of the water economy and create a tool for integrated water management. The Water Management Administration, which reports to the Minister for the Interior, was created in 2004, amalgamating the various units responsible for water protection and management that had previously operated within other administrations.
A new Water Act has been implemented to consolidate water legislation and transpose the EU Water Framework Directive and Floods Directive into national law. As of 1 January 2010, the law seeks to harmonise the structure of water pricing and introduces the principle of full cost recovery for drinking water supply and urban sewage treatment. In addition to water supply and sanitation service charges, which are levied by the service providers, the law introduces an abstraction tax and a pollution tax, income from which goes to the Water Management Fund.
The abstraction tax is levied on anyone who draws surface water or groundwater and is based on the volume of water drawn (measured by a metering device installed by the user). In addition to the public utilities, which provide 43 million m3 of water annually (70 % for the public network and 30 % for industry), the agri-food industry extracts an additional 4 million m3 of ground water, but not all these extraction sources are equipped with metering devices.
The discharge of waste water into surface or underground water sources is subject to a pollution tax. The tax is proportionate to the units of pollutant load in the water discharged. It must be paid when any of the following thresholds is exceeded: 250 kg/year for chemical oxygen demand (COD); 125 kg/year for nitrogen (N); 15 kg/year for phosphorus (P); or 5.2 kg/year for suspended particulate matter (SPM). The volume of water discharged is equal to the volume of water drawn from the public distribution network. A 10-20 % reduction in the tax is offered to municipalities that have installed rainwater treatment and management facilities in their network. For industry, the number of units of pollutant load taken as a basis for calculating the tax is the authorised pollutant load. However, if that load is exceeded, the tax may be increased. It can also be reduced if the pollutant load is at least 20 % less than what would result from the discharge authorisation.
The Water Management Fund was created in 1999 to subsidise sewage treatment and is financed by budgetary allocations. The Fund is also considering resorting to loans from the European Investment Bank, so as not to hinder the development of sanitation and waste water treatment infrastructure in the coming years. The Fund can cover up to 90 % of the municipality’s capital costs for sewerage and sewage treatment. The Water Act expands the scope of the Fund. It authorises coverage of: (i) up to 50 % for measures to protect water resources intended for human consumption (with the exception of agricultural activity); (ii) up to 80 % of the cost of flood risk abatement and (iii) up to 100 % of watercourse rehabilitation costs. The law also allows the Fund to cover up to 100 % of expenditure on projects of national interest to safeguard the quality of surface and groundwater or protect available water resources in the long term. The Water Management Fund must distribute its revenues on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis for the projects selected. The Fund itself is administered by a management committee, including representatives of the ministries responsible for water management, the budget, agriculture, health and the environment.
The Water Act also called for management plans to be prepared for Luxembourg’s two river basins (the Moselle and the Chiers) and these were made public at the end of 2009. Furthermore, it requires the establishment of a “general municipal plan for the urban water cycle” in each municipality. This plan must contain an inventory of underground waters, water supply and sanitation infrastructure; areas listed in the protected zones registry and details of flood-prone districts. These municipal plans will provide the basis for preparing a national urban water cycle plan.
According to the Water Act, the Water Management Administration is to work with the municipalities and administrations concerned to establish a master plan for flood risk management, reflecting the objectives of the European Floods Directive (2007/60/EC). Between 1998 and 2002, the Spatial Planning Department established a partial management plan for flood zones and retention zones for various communities affected by high water along the Moselle and its tributaries. During the period 2002-09, the project was upgraded to a Flood Vulnerability Atlas and the investigated area has been raised to 15 Luxembourg’s watercourses. The results of the TIMIS flood project (Transnational Internet Map Information System on Flooding) were posted on the internet – site 1 and site 2. In application of article 13 of the Floods Directive, the flood hazard maps and flood risk maps are being accomplished by the end of 2010 and will be send out to the municipalities for validation. The mapping of flood zones and flood risks is to be superimposed onto the municipalities’ general land use plans. In particular, new urban development must be prohibited in flood zones, unless the retention volume lost can be offset and the development does not increase risks upstream and downstream.
Beyond conventional dike-building measures, the flood risk management plans will focus on improving the eco-morphological structure of riverbeds and restoring natural water retention areas. The costs are borne by the municipalities; however they may receive government subsidies of up to 50 % (or 80 % for inter-municipal works). Agricultural restrictions can also be imposed with a view to limiting the leaching of pollutants. For example, surface water management seeks to keep watercourses flowing freely and to maintain their banks in good condition. Maintenance focuses on riverbeds and the vegetation of river banks, riparian zones and floodplains. Up to 50 % of the costs incurred are borne by the Government. Another example is the rehabilitation of watercourses and associated wetlands to enhance their flood control function. A number of “watercourse partnerships” - rehabilitation projects involving local communities and citizens at the watershed level - are now underway. The cost of rehabilitation is borne by the municipalities, although they may receive state subsidies of up to 100 %. Achieving sound hydro-morphological status for watercourses, as required under the Water Act, will largely depend on cooperation with riparian owners to maintain vegetation along river banks and/or state purchase of the river banks. Several “flood partnerships” (national and transnational) are founded in order to maintain a certain level of flood risk awareness among the population and to involve the public into the implementation of the Floods Directive. Concerted action with neighbouring countries has led to the implementation of the Flood Action Plan Moselle since 1998 (with Germany, Belgium and France), under the aegis of the International Commissions for the Protection of the Moselle and the Sarre, and to closer cooperation on flood risk information (with France and Germany). The Flood Action Plan Moselle provides a basis to establish the flood risk management plan in conformity with the Floods Directive.
The quality of all drinking water resources (250 catchment sources, 50 drilling holes and the Esch-sur-Sûre reservoir) is regularly monitored. Suppliers are responsible for monitoring the quality of the water they deliver for human consumption. The Grand Ducal Regulation of 7 October 2002, which transposes into law Directive 98/83/EC on the quality of water intended for human consumption, requires drinking water suppliers to audit their infrastructure and assess the state of water resources. A total of 97 of the 116 municipalities and the seven inter-municipal syndicates had finished their audit by the end of March 2010.
Delimitations of ground water protection zones according to Art. 44 of the Water Act are about to be established. By October 2010 technical studies started at 28 % of the catchment areas. The first official delimitations are expected during the first term of 2011.
Financial assistance to the municipalities from the Water Management Fund has been doubled to help them to cover 90 % of investments in sewerage and sewage treatment. However, although the proportion of the population connected to a waste water treatment plant is very high (95 %), only 22 % is connected to a tertiary treatment station, even though the entire country is classified as a sensitive area under the EU Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (91/271/EEC). A dual-channel system to separate rainwater (which can re-infiltrate the water table naturally) and sewage (which requires purification) is still not in place, with the exception of the cities of Luxembourg and Esch-sur-Alzette and in new housing developments.
Other interesting links
The Water Administration web site: click here (in French and German).
2009 Activity Report of the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Greater Region – p. 57-58 and Annex 4, p. 62-119: click here (in French).