Improving transparency in water services

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News Published 06 May 2014 Last modified 21 Jun 2016
2 min read
Photo: © Rashidi Siddiqi
The average European directly uses approximately 130 litres of water per day. Better access to data on water supply and treatment may help Europe use this precious resource more efficiently, according to a new report on water utilities.

'Performance of Water Utilities beyond Compliance' is a report from the European Environment Agency (EEA) prepared in cooperation with  European water associations, which collectively represent approximately 70,000 utilities providing water for around 400 million  people. The data used in the report represents the water using habits of approximately 50 million people.

The report comes shortly after a commitment from the European Commission to improve the transparency and accountability of water service providers by giving citizens access to comparable data on the key economic, technical and quality performance indicators. The commitment is a response to a European Citizen's Initiative, where more than one million citizens signed a petition demanding a 'right to water'.

Hans Bruyninckx, EEA Executive Director, said: “There are few resources more vital than water. Despite huge improvements in the way we treat it, transport it and dispose of it, there are still severe environmental impacts. Water utilities can play a major role in making Europe's water use more efficient, so it would be good to have more data to compare their environmental performance.”

Key findings

  • The volume of water lost due to leaks and other unbilled water use varies hugely across Europe. For example, data from Germany, Denmark, France and Sweden showed average values from 1 to 10 m3 from every kilometre of pipe every day. In a separate assessment, average distribution losses were around 8.5m3/km/day, according to benchmarking data from 32 large utilities serving around 75 million people across Europe. Such losses are particularly important in water-scarce areas.
  • Waste water treatment is more effective in larger treatment plants, the data shows. Larger plants released relatively lower levels of nutrient emissions compared to smaller facilities. Nutrient pollution causes eutrophication, which is leading to oxygen-free 'dead zones' in seas, lakes and rivers.
  • Producing, transporting and treating water all require energy. Urban water management uses approximately 5.5 % of households' overall electricity consumption, which is the equivalent of each person constantly running a 10 W light bulb. This does not include the management of industrial wastewater or storm-water run-off.


The report aims to help the EU achieve its aims to use resources more efficiently. There is a lot of information on whether utilities and countries have complied with legislation, but less is known on the more specific details – how much water is wasted, how much energy is used in water treatment, and so on. Such information is useful to improve 'resource efficiency', a major policy goal in Europe.

Data should be comparable so that European–level indicators can be constructed. This is not always the case, the report says.   


The report was prepared in cooperation with the European Environment Agency (EEA) and the four leading water associations in Europe: the International Water Association (IWA), the European Water Association (EWA), the European Association of National Water Associations (EUREAU), the Water supply and sanitation Technology Platform (WssTP), the European Commission, and benchmarking networks.


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