A constant, abundant reserve independent of seasonal rainfall. It is the clean water that comes out of treatment plants, an increasingly valuable resource for both civil use and especially agriculture. Milan launches the challenge to respond to the pressures of the climate crisis, increasingly frequent droughts and increasingly unpredictable weather: the Sanitation Safety Plan developed by CAP Group in collaboration with the Istituto Superiore di Sanità, the Politecnico di Milano and the University of South Carolina, is a world-leading system to guarantee top-quality water that is safe and ready for use in agriculture. The growing importance and increasingly central role of purified water was discussed during the conference 'Wastewater treatment has a new tomorrow', organised by CAP Group, the green utility that manages the integrated water service of the Metropolitan City of Milan, which involved discussions among Italian and international experts and professionals from the water sector, with contributions from ARERA, UNESCO, the European Commission's Research Centre, Legambiente, Coldiretti, Aqua Publica Europea (the European Association of Public Water Operators) and experts from the Netherlands, Berlin and Israel.
"Water is not an unlimited resource, and the Region of Lombardy is the leading agricultural region in Italy, and therefore in terms of water requirements,” said Massimo Sertori, Lombardy Regional Councillor for Local Authorities, Mountains, Energy Resources and Use of Water Resources. “The current irrigation system, consisting of large lakes and canals, certainly needs to be made more efficient, perhaps by adopting new technologies, but it [also] must be preserved, because it is currently the most effective system. In this sense, the use of wastewater can be an element to be considered, even if this alone will not satisfy the agricultural needs in Lombardy.”
The reuse of water is considered an effective way to help solve the problem of water scarcity and droughts in the EU, and its helps to reduce water stress on the ground by reducing the water withdrawn from aquifers and enabling their restoration. It is therefore an essential resource for tackling the current climate crisis. We need only think of what has happened in the last two years, in which we have witnessed exceptional periods of drought, major decreases in the levels of all water basins (especially in the North) with dramatic repercussions in the agricultural sector. In Italy, the issue was regulated by a 2003 law that was superseded in June of this year thanks to the transposition of European Regulation 741/2020/EU, which simplifies and promotes the possibility of reusing treated wastewater, and is based on a risk assessment and management approach, the same approach that underlies CAP Group's Sanitation Safety Plan. At the same time, the new rule broadens the range of stakeholders, from agriculture and irrigation management to the end user.
"The use of treated wastewater is a key issue today, which must be reviewed and adapted also in the light of the new European legislation, only recently implemented in our country. Thanks to the Sanitation Safety Plan, CAP is already prepared to respond adequately to the new legal requirements,” said Alessandro Russo, CEO of CAP Group. “Since 2019, when we adopted our Sustainability Plan, we have set ourselves ambitious goals in this respect: to reuse at least 50% of the water we treat by 2033. Today we are already at 41%. We have calculated that with the plants managed by us alone, we would be able to satisfy 22% of the water needs of the Metropolitan City of Milan, equivalent to about 4% of the whole of Lombardy. The challenge now is to work in synergy with those who then have to transport and use this water: the agricultural sector. We are ready and convinced that this is the right road to take. The Sanitation Safety Plan is a model created in Italy, representing the very first risk plan to be trialled in the country, and one of the first in Europe. It is the result of collaboration with the Istituto Superiore di Sanità, the Politecnico di Milano and the University of South Carolina, which adopted 4.0 solutions for the continuous monitoring and constant control of the quality of the treated water. The results we have achieved have been more than positive, and today we are ready to replicate the model on an industrial scale.”
The Sanitation Safety Plan — the result of long experimentation carried out at the Peschiera Borromeo plant, one of the most modern and efficient in Italy — is a tool for managing the safety of treated wastewater, and offers all stakeholders, as far as the end consumer, a guarantee on the safety of products and services coming from the treatment system. Think of vegetables or crops irrigated with treated water for which maximum health safety must be ensured.
"The Integrated Water System has changed a great deal over the last few years, based on the legislation adopted in 2003, which has led to extraordinary results in terms of efficiency, as reflected in the work done by CAP Group," continued Councillor Sertori. “Today we must look to the future, in order to improve the service further, by increasing economies of scale, reducing tariffs and seeking, together with all the actors in the water sector, to ensure an administrative response that keeps pace with the challenges of climate change.”
During the conference, it was emphasised that Italy has implemented the European regulations governing the reuse of treated wastewater in a virtuous manner. In particular, ARERA, the Energy, Networks and Environment Regulatory Authority, aims to promote the use of treated water also through its regulations, acting simultaneously on both utilities, which will be encouraged to invest in improving treatment systems, and agricultural businesses, leveraging wastewater prices to make it increasingly advantageous to use.