Documents considered by the Committee on 27 June 2018 Contents

3Water reuse for agricultural irrigation

Committee’s assessment

Politically important

Committee’s decision

Not cleared from scrutiny; further information requested; drawn to the attention of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

Document details

Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on minimum requirements for water reuse

Legal base

Article 192(1) TFEU, QMV, Ordinary legislative procedure


Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Document Number

(39791), 9498/18 + ADDs 1–3, COM(18) 337

Summary and Committee’s conclusions

3.1Water over-abstraction, in particular for agricultural irrigation but also for industrial use and urban development, is one of the main threats to the EU water environment. One way in which water scarcity could be alleviated is through greater water re-use, particularly for agricultural irrigation. At the moment, however, there is limited water re-use, which the Commission judges is partly due to the lack of common EU environmental or health standards for water re-use and the potential obstacles to the free movement of agricultural products irrigated with reclaimed water.

3.2The Commission therefore proposes a set of minimum requirements for water re-use in order to establish a safe framework within which water re-use can develop. Requirements are classified by type of crop, use and irrigation method.

3.3In his EM, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (David Rutley) says that the UK has a low rate of water re-use (estimated to be less than 1% of all treated waste water, of which none is used for agricultural irrigation). Previous research noted the potential for greater re-use and identified public concerns and the lack of a regulatory framework as obstacles. He considers that the Commission’s proposal could contribute to an increase in the uptake of reuse schemes in the UK and provide reassurance to the public on the safety of crops irrigated with waste water, both those grown in the UK and those grown elsewhere in the EU.

3.4The Minister notes that any significant planned use of treated waste water for irrigation purposes could impact upon current and emerging UK practice relating to reuse of water to supplement drinking water during periods of water scarcity. He adds that the Government will also need to consider whether the standards proposed are adequate to protect the environment and human health. The Government is still in the process of considering the impact of the proposal on the UK and is working with relevant stakeholders to that end.

3.5The Minister observes that the proposal includes a provision on access to justice, which mirrors requirements under the United Nations Aarhus Convention on Access to Environmental Justice.10 While the Government does not consider it necessary to replicate in EU environmental legislation provisions already included in the Aarhus Convention, its inclusion does not create a problem.

3.6On timing, the Minister considers it likely that the legislation will enter into force in 2019 and will become applicable one year after that date, which would fall within the proposed post-Brexit implementation period (lasting until 31 December 2020).

3.7We note that the Government’s analysis of the impact of this potentially significant proposal—which the UK may be obliged to transpose during the proposed post-Brexit implementation period, and which could also facilitate post-Brexit UK-EU trade in crops irrigated with reused water—is at an early stage. We look forward to receipt of the Government’s further assessment of the potential impact and desirability of this draft legislation. In the meantime, we retain the proposal under scrutiny. We draw it to the attention of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.

Full details of the documents

Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on minimum requirements for water reuse: (39791), 9498/18 + ADDs 1–3, COM(18) 337.

Previous Committee Reports


10 The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters.

Published: 3 July 2018