Efficient water networks
Klara Ramn – Executive Committee member of EurEau, the European Federation of National Associations of Water Services, which represents Europe's drinking and wastewater service providers from 30 countries, in both the private and public sectors.
Welcome to the Urbanista blog where we discuss water management challenges of Nordic cities. From safe drinking water distribution and stormwater collection, to building sustainable urban living environments. The Urbanista blog is based on the Urbanista podcast episodes. This post is based on the interview with Klara Ramn – Executive Committee member of EurEau, the European Federation of National Associations of Water Services, which represents Europe's drinking and wastewater service providers from 30 countries, in both the private and public sectors.
Efficient water networks. What does it take?
This fascinating conversation covers a wide range of topics from water regulation to water loss, the cost of running and renovating water networks and how money is generated from tariffs, taxes and transfers. We also discussed themes such as sustainable development, water treatment, water quality and the main purpose of the EurEau association.
You cooperate directly with the EurEau project. What is your role in this project?
- We are an exceptional organisation because we are a group of experts from very different fields: water and wastewater but also experts working on very specific, concrete topics that concern water, wastewater and utilities. So, it’s a unique group of experts trying to explain how the sector works and how the EU law works.
Are there any new regulations coming?
- There are a lot of new regulations that we have to manage. The most important recently is the new drinking water directive which will implement a lot of challenges for that sector.
What about risk management and leakage. How are the water utilities managing these?
- Risk management is something we have been working on for a long time, because we knew that it would be an obligation for water utilities. Leakage was also something that we were working on. The challenge was to make the water network more efficient, but also to find leakages. Now we have really coped with leakages, so we have reduced the amount of water we lose in the network.
Do we know how much water we are losing?
- We have benchmarks, e.g., in Poland it’s about 2000 cubic litres p/kilometre of network p/year. And we also have percentages. Denmark, for example, is a leader in this area and loses around 10% of water per year.
So, Demark is at the forefront, but what about other countries that are not doing so well. What levels of water loss do they have?- In some small cities, it could be as high as 50%. So only half of the water arrives to the customer and half is just lost somewhere. There are still challenges that we have to manage. How to invest, renew and renovate networks.
50% is a lot of water! How have the municipalities or utility companies responded to this?
- The important first step is to know how much you lose and where is it lost. If you don’t know, you cannot react. You have to learn about your network. Another thing is to check that the water metering in the network is working and fit for purpose. And then you have to take care of your network: the pipes, the materials you use, the age of the pipes. There are a lot of small factors to consider.
What is the average age of the water networks?- There are some figures. For example, in Holland we have pipes that are more than 100 years old. But actually, these are sometimes less problematic than pipes that were built in the 1980s because in that period there were problems both with the quality of the pipe materials and the way in which they were placed into the ground. So, although they are only 40 years old, they are more problematic than older systems.
What is the price of renovating the network and is there a price for the cost of running the network?
- Regarding renovating, there is a group of experts responsible for the network, the design, the materials chosen, the construction, etc; and it costs money. In Poland for example we calculated the cost of implementing the new drinking water directive at about 10 billion euros, just to make the network work properly.
The running of the network is calculated in tariffs, and the operation and running costs are reported to establish the tariffs. The common problem for almost all utilities in Europe is to have enough money for new investment. This can be very difficult to explain to politicians - that this money has to be found for future generations.
How is it funded?
- There is a model of 3 T’s. invented by the OECD: Tariffs, Taxes and Transfers. We can get money from these three sources. The tariffs are the money the consumer pays for the service; the taxes, for example, wastewater utilities pay environmental taxes which can be used to fund investments; and transfers, e.g. EU funds which can be used invest and finance.
What is an environmental tax?- Well, now the crisis is water, but soon it will be phosphorus, because we use it in the wrong way and we need to take care of how we use things.
I’m not afraid of the future because humans find a way to continue living, that’s what we do.
How can the water companies help the water utilities?- We have to invest in the circular economy. Sustainable and durable materials, for example; pipes that last a long time, that work properly and don’t leak. As well as this, it’s very important to reuse. E.g., How can we reuse old pipes to replace broken ones.
Is there a concern that recycled products are of a lower quality?- Yes, and it’s also our responsibility to educate and increase awareness and understanding about recycling.
Do you think we are paying too little for the water we consume?- People need to be more aware of what they are paying for, and in fact that is one of the requirements of the new drinking water directive – to inform what is included in the consumer water bill, and also how the customer can make the bill smaller, e.g., checking for internal domestic water leaks or taking a shower instead of a bath.
In Europe, the water values must be explained. This value is not just about the price, but also about wellbeing, health, safety. There is a value that you can drink the water and not get sick.
How well is the water managed in Poland?- Similarly to the rest of Europe, bigger cities can do more. They are the leaders and places like Warsaw or Krakow are cities that really work to make services better and better. On the other hand, many smaller municipalities have to manage with few resources. A good example of a sustainable system is Gdansk.
Together with the University of Economy of Krakow and the Arcadis company, we publish a Water City Index which shows how the Polish cities manage water. It is open and transparent and we would like to invite other European cities to participate too.
With regard to challenges, I could mention the war in Ukraine. We are already organising a way to help, and we have volunteers ready to go there and share knowledge, experience and expertise. Cooperation is always necessary.