Drinking water quality requires additional attention

The quality of drinking water in the Netherlands is very high and the manufacturing price of drinking water is low. Production is efficient and environmentally aware and drinking water companies serve as active nature conservationists. However, the quality of drinking water is under pressure from, among other things, plant protection products, nitrate, new substances in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, climate change and competing activities in the subsurface. This means that additional attention must be paid to protecting sources of drinking water as well as to dealing with drinking water more economically.

This is set down in the Drinking Water Policy Paper proposed by Minister Schultz van Haegen of Infrastructure and the Environment that has been approved by the Council of Ministers. All the authorities involved and the drinking water companies have to get to work on protecting our sources of drinking water. More knowledge is needed regarding the effects of combinations of substances and new threats, like antibiotic resistant bacteria. Furthermore, increased investment is needed in the water supply network, in wastewater treatment and extraction. In addition, the cabinet wants to further elaborate what duty of care administrative bodies have regarding the drinking water supply pursuant to the Drinking Water Act. It also intends to assign strategic stocks and national reserves and promote cooperation in the water supply chain. Also on the agenda are tightening up water quality requirements and designing a prevention ladder (an assessment framework for preventing and tackling water pollution). In 2014 and 2015, the cabinet will be making important decisions in this regard in, among other things, the Subsurface Structural Vision, the Delta Programme and the elaboration of the Water Framework Directive. No later than in 2016, the cabinet will evaluate whether new measures are necessary to prevent legionella bacteria and lead in drinking water.

Making the supply of drinking water sustainably secure is a matter of national security. Although lower-level authorities and the drinking water companies are responsible for delivery, it is the national government that is responsible for the system. Due to the high degree of customer trust, it is important to communicate – more transparently than is now the case – about uncertainties, about what is being done to reduce them and about dealing with drinking water in an environmentally aware manner.

The cabinet expects that in the future water will be of increasingly more geo-political importance. In the years ahead, Dutch drinking water companies will continue to contribute to the realisation of new UN goals in the area of sustainable development (Sustainable Development Goals). The expectation is that these new goals will also include universal access to drinking water and sanitation facilities. International cooperation can increase job opportunities within the Dutch drinking water sector and add to its economic strength.

The paper entitled Schoon drinkwater voor nu en later (Clean Water today and in the Future) is the first in a series, and was drawn up in close consultation with the provinces, municipalities, water authorities, drinking water companies and civil society organisations. Several matters will be further elaborated in 2015 in the Implementation Programme. Pursuant to the Drinking Water Act (2011), the cabinet must approve a Drinking Water Policy Paper every six years.