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Innovative tools enabling drinking WATER PROTECTion in rural and urban environments

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - WATERPROTECT (Innovative tools enabling drinking WATER PROTECTion in rural and urban environments)

Reporting period: 2018-12-01 to 2020-09-30

Safe and sufficient drinking water is essential for life: we use it for drinking, food preparation and cleaning. However, more than half of the river and lake water bodies in Europe are reported to be in less than good ecological status and about 25% of groundwater across Europe is in poor chemical status. And, the situation is not improving anymore.
An important and persistent threat to drinking water sources is nitrogen pollution. This pollution is linked to the agricultural use of animal manure and fertilizer for crops and fields and also linked to soil erosion. Another source of nitrogen pollution is an absent or inappropriate communal sewage system in the area. Measures to reduce nitrogen pollution from agriculture and improvements in waste water treatment have led to a steady reduction in average nitrogen concentrations in rivers from 2.7 to 2.1 mg NO3/l (1992 to 2012) and average concentrations in groundwater are well below the Groundwater Quality Standard of 50 mg NO3/l . However, persistent hot spot areas remain across Europe at the regional level with nitrate levels stagnating above the set standards.
Several countries in Europe report aquifers having concentrations of pesticides that exceed the standard of 0.1 µg/l. This is also the case in several of the Waterprotect Action labs. Headwaters draining areas with intensive agriculture, also show elevated concentrations of pesticides in the surface water, impacting drinking water production from surface water further downstream.
Despite the increased integration of policies to deliver clean and safe drinking water over the past decades, there is clearly a need to increase the engagement of interdependent actors and stakeholders. The reduction of the diffuse pollution of drinking water sources by pesticides and fertilisers used by the agricultural sector remains the biggest challenge and requires a move towards more bottom-up water governance between the various actors and stakeholders: water companies, farmers, nature conservation NGOs, plant protection product producers, fertilizer producers, food and retail businesses, consumer organisations, environment agencies and ministries.
The Horizon 2020 project WaterProtect develops new solutions and tools in 7 Action labs where water pollution (nutrients and/or pesticides) from intensive agriculture may affect the quality of the water for drinking water production. In each of the seven proposed WaterProtect action labs, water pollution from either nutrients or pesticides or both is prevalent and most catchments pose challenges for drinking water production.
In the seven action labs local coalitions between relevant actors (farmers, communities, NGOs, private and public water producers, researchers, ministries and agencies) were set-up. All available data on water quality from different parties (water companies, authorities, ..) was collected resulting in seven harmonized datasets. The water quality information was combined with relevant catchment info in order to build a conceptual model for the different cases. Together with the different actors, the needs and strategies for further monitoring were defined. Information on available Best Management Practices was compiled and local farming practices and willingness to adopt new measures were investigated. This knowledge building is done in close collaboration with local actors and multiple meetings, trainings and discussion groups were organized to share information and exchange views.
In a next step, starting from the local context a process was initiated to stimulate uptake of Best Management Practices and improve the water quality. Different types of incentives were experimented with ranging from raising awareness by targeted communication and webtools over the investigation of alternative financing mechanisms and trainings and demonstrations of measures. In all of the action labs the process resulted in an increased awareness of the water quality issues and an increased interest in good practices. In some cases an increased uptake of measures or the set-up of alternative financing mechanism were achieved. The project also paved the way for continuation towards a good drinking water source protection in all 7 action labs in the coming years: by e.g. setting up a water reuse plan, the further use of pesticide monitoring tools, initiating collaboration between neighboring waterworks, promotion of successful work in the action lab in other areas of the member state, fertile ground to setup a new project at the same location that continues the project work.
From the process in the different action labs, a governance guide was made with all the steps from water governance assessment to assessment of achievements and recommendations for researchers and policy makers were formulated. Guidelines on setting up participatory monitoring approaches were made. The interactions with farmers and action lab leaders led to an analysis of the main barriers inhibiting successful implementation of Best Management Practices and a set of recommendations to overcome these. Results from the action labs and from other existing cases in Europe are used to set out a roadmap for upscaling lessons learnt to the EU and support EU policy related to water quality and agriculture.
WaterProtect reached out to EU-level stakeholders on water management and agriculture and created the WaterProtect community, a first step towards the development of a living lab for innovation with respect to water and agriculture.
The WaterProtect project contributed to the development of participatory methods for local water governance and to improve public policy instruments to protect drinking water resources. The most important lessons learnt from the project are:
• Engaging the actors in a catchment (or around a groundwater body) led to an increased interest in mitigation measures and an increased implementation.
• A multi-actor approach allows for a tailor-made approach with more impact.
• Knowledge building and sharing information is crucial to reach a common understanding and a collaborative development of solutions.
• Continuation of efforts is needed in order to reach a good water quality and this is most successful if benefits are clear (e.g .tourism, certification schemes).
• There is a need for a better coordination between different institutional bodies promoting measures and the financial incentives needed to invest and operate often-costly measures.
The seven action labs in the EU.