In profile:
EU investment in clean water


High quality drinking water and access to sanitation are essential for our daily life and economic activities.
Thanks to EU policy and funding, most people living in Europe enjoy good access to water services, but still not everyone does. Cohesion policy continues to invest in these objectives, allocating EUR 15 billion to water management.
European water policy protects water resources and ecosystems and ensures the safety and availability of drinking water. All aspects of European water policy are linked through the Water Framework Directive, contributing to maintaining or achieving good water quality.
Cohesion policy water investments focus especially on countries that are working to meet their basic needs. The largest share of support is dedicated to wastewater collection and treatment infrastructure in Member States that still need to comply with EU objectives. It includes the construction or upgrading of wastewater treatment plans and sewerage networks, but also sewage sludge management.
Cohesion policy also contributes to the availability and security of drinking water, through water purification plants and distribution networks, especially in areas where the population has no access to adequate water provision. Such water distribution measures should be accompanied by improvements on the demand side, such as reducing leakages or water saving measures. Water efficiency helps to preserve the available resources, and thus to reduce costs for water users.
In addition, cohesion policy helps those European regions that are facing problems of water scarcity or drought, which are caused by climate change.  In particular, reuse of waste water for urban irrigation or other uses can be supported by the funds. Investments in flood prevention are also a major focus of cohesion policy.
European water policy and cohesion policy investments contribute to the achievement of targets set by Sustainable Development Goal 6: clean water and sanitation
This data story refers to the 2014-2020 programming period; the related investments will run until 2023.

Cohesion Fund and European Regional Development Fund investing in water services

The Cohesion Fund is the primary EU source of investment in water infrastructure to meet the specific needs of benefiting Member States. In doing so, it helps meet their basic water needs and supports the compliance with the EU environmental acquis in the field of water.  The ERDF also invests in infrastructure providing basic water services to citizens. It can also support the development of regional endogenous potential through small-scale infrastructure. 

Investments in water infrastructure are part of Thematic Objective 6: Preserving and protecting the environment and promoting resource efficiency. 

Member States allocate different amounts to water investments

The graph below shows the water investment preferences of Member States who choose to use EU support for investments in clean water. These investments are classified in the following categories:
-         Water infrastructure for human consumption
-         Water management and drinking water conservation
-         Waste water treatment
The second chart shows the total planned water infrastructure investment and the progress made in implementing it. 
TIP: TC refers to Interreg programs, implemented across countries.

Progress in achieving investment objectives

In the case of water supply and waste water treatment, the reported progress towards the indicator targets show strong similarities at the aggregate EU level: in both cases, achieved (implemented) values are only at around 10% of the targets, and by end 2018, the forecast values from the selected projects appear to exceed  the target values. This is likely due to the common practice of over commitment, that aims to ensure the full use of the funds.
In 2007-2013, the bulk of achieved values for the comparable common indicators were only reported late in the period. 

Comparing investment and achievement values reported

Indicator targets set by Member States are influenced by several factors, such as the population of the region or country in question, environmental factors and other investments affecting drinking water (such as flood prevention, climate change adaptation). The local environment also affects the cost of drinking water and waste water infrastructure. 
The two pairs of graphs below also allow to compare implementation levels (expenditure) and implemented outputs. Output achievement is often delayed compared to expenditure, though it is also influenced by local experience and the degree of uncertainty related to each project. 
The top left buttons allows to compare investment and target values at fund level.
Clicking on the bars corresponding to each Member State allows to visualise investment and outputs by Programme. 
Ensure the year filters match.

Investment progress: Drinking water (Intervention fields 020 + 021) 

Outputs:  Drinking water - population benefiting (CO18)

Investment progress: Waste water treatment (Intervention field  022) 

Outputs:  Water water treatment - population benefiting (CO19)

Project examples

A few of the many investments projects in water supply and waste water treatment are profiled below.  Find more examples in the Inforegio project database  

Reducing water pollution in Zahodna, Slovenia

The Domžale-Kamnik Central Wastewater Treatment Plant in Slovenia’s Zahodna region has been upgraded to substantially reduce environmental pollution in the area.
This has improved the ecological status of the Kamniška Bistrica River while protecting drinking water sources. 
Other projects
  • Vratsa Integrated Water Project at Vratsa in the North-West region - Bulgaria: The second phase of the two-stage project covers the town's urban water distribution and wastewater collection and wastewater treatment systems, and is aimed at ensuring efficient management of the entire water cycle. Find out more.
  • Water supply infrastructure upgraded in Florina, West Macedonia - Greece: EU funding has enabled the upgrading of the water supply infrastructure serving 41 settlements in the communities of Meliti, Perasma and Kato Kleines, in the Florina municipality, in West Macedonia region. Find out more

  • Improved regional water supply system in Zagreb county - Croatia:  Substantial investments in water supply systems in Croatia's Zagreb County, the area surrounding the national capital, will merge existing subsystems into a single Zagreb-East regional water supply system, to provide residents with good quality water in sufficient quantities. Find out more

  • The islands of Malta, Gozo and Comino will benefit from the provision of a sustainable supply of good-quality drinking water and improved wastewater services. The new infrastructure will enhance security of supply, reduce the islands’ dependency on bottled water, help reduce carbon emissions and safeguard groundwater resources. Find out more.

More information

Find out more about Cohesion policy's investments targeting the preservation of the environment: 
Find more #ESIFOpenData stories here.


REGIO.G1 - sustainable growth team, contact: 
(European Commission, Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy, Smart and Sustainable Growth Unit)

Author: Caterina SCARPA 
Text: November 2020