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Law to improve drinking water quality proposed

Brussels – The European Commission has proposed measures aimed at improving the quality of drinking water and access to it, but the grass-roots group that inspired the move says the proposal doesn't go far enough.

Right2Water spokesman Pablo Sanchez described the EU proposal as a "step in the right direction, but not ambitious enough."

The European Water Movement campaign group also said in a statement in response to a leaked version of the proposal that the commission had failed to declare access to water a human right and had done nothing to prevent companies from making a profit out of water management.

Proposed reforms

The commission proposal has four elements: further improving water quality; using a risk-based approach to assess water safety; obliging member states to improve access to water; and requiring them to make information on water services available online.

The planned reforms would also include 18 new standards for clean drinking water, to protect against new substances such as bacteria, viruses or industry contaminants.

The proposed changes could cost the EU up to 2.2 billion euros (2.74 billion dollars) annually, the EU's executive said, while noting that additional spending per household on water services would only increase by a fraction of a percentage point.

Reducing bottled water consumption

The commission noted that one goal was to encourage people to switch from bottled water to tap water, saving them money and benefiting the environment. More public water fountains and access to drinking water in public buildings would also help vulnerable people, it said.

Reduced consumption of bottled water could save European households more than 600 million euros annually, the commission added.

The proposal, which would overhaul the EU's 20-year-old water directive, needs the approval of the EU governments and lawmakers before taking effect.

Water as a basic right

Good drinking water is easily accessible for most people across the European Union, with stringent rules in place on the quality of tap water.

In 2014 however, 1.68 million people signed an EU-wide petition demanding that all citizens have a right to water and sanitation, amid concerns over the privatization of water services.

The Right2Water campaign was the first successful citizens' initiative under a system introduced in 2012 to give people more say in EU affairs.