Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive

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Directive 91/271/EEC
European Union directive
Title Urban Waste Water Directive
Made by European Council
Made under Article 130 S
Journal reference L 135 , 30/05/1991 P. 40 - 52
Date made 21 May 1991
Current legislation

The Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (full title Council Directive 91/271/EEC of 21 May 1991 concerning urban waste-water treatment) is a European Union directive concerning the "collection, treatment and discharge of urban waste water and the treatment and discharge of waste water from certain industrial sectors".[1] The directive was adopted on 21 May 1991. Its stated objective is "to protect the environment from the adverse effects of urban waste water discharges and discharges from certain industrial sectors".[2]

The directive requires the collection and treatment of waste water in agglomerations with a population equivalent (PE) of over 2000, and more advanced treatment in agglomerations with a PE greater than 10,000 in sensitive areas.[2]

Sensitive areas[edit]

Sensitive areas, within the meaning of the directive, include "freshwater bodies, estuaries and coastal waters which are eutrophic or which may become eutrophic if protective action is not taken"; "surface freshwaters intended for the abstraction of drinking water which contain or are likely to contain more than 50 mg/l of nitrates"; areas where further treatment is necessary to comply with other directives, such as the directives on fish waters, on bathing waters, on shellfish waters, on the conservation of wild birds and natural habitats, etc.[3] The directive also provides for a derogation for areas designated as "less sensitive" and such derogations were approved for areas in Portugal.[3]


By 31 December 1998 member states were required to ensure that waste water treatment facilities were available for all agglomerations with a PE of over 10,000 where the effluent was being discharged into a sensitive area.[3] By 31 December 1998 member states were required to ensure that waste water treatment facilities were provided for all agglomerations with a PE of over 15,000, which discharged their effluent into a so-called "normal areas" and biodegradable waste water produced by plants of the food-processing sectors listed in the directive, and which discharged directly into receiving water bodies, fulfilled certain conditions.[3]

By 31 December 2005 member states were required to provide collecting and treatment systems in all agglomerations with a PE between 2000 and 10 000 where the effluent is discharged into a sensitive area, and in all agglomerations with a PE of 10,000 to 15,000 where the effluent is not discharged into such an area.

In a 2004, Commission report on implementation by the member states, the Commission noted that some member states, in particular France and Spain, had been tardy in providing the required information, and infringement procedures had been initiated.[3]

The report further mentioned a number of concerns regarding implementation in several countries, in particular Spain's non-provision of any advanced treatment in the catchment areas of rivers identified as sensitive in their downstream section, such as the Ebro and the Guadalquivir; Italy's implementation (or otherwise) in the catchment area of the Po River, the delta and adjacent coastal waters; and the United Kingdom's interpretation and implementation of the directive in regard to the catchment areas of sensitive areas.[3] According to the 2004 report, most member states planned to achieve conformity with the Directive by 2005 or 2008 at the latest.[3]

Political significance[edit]

The Urban Waste Water Directive marked a shift from legislation aimed at end-use standards to stricter legislation aimed at regulating water quality at the source. The directive applied both to domestic waste water and to waste water from industrial sectors, both of which account for much of the pollution. It also demonstrated the increasingly detailed nature of European Union legislation and resulted in significant costs in many member states.[4]

Many years after the directive was adopted, considerable variations remained in the provision of sewage treatment in the different member states.[4]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ "Council Directive 91/271/EEC of 21 May 1991 concerning urban waste-water treatment (91/271/EEC)". Retrieved 2009-07-19. 
  2. ^ a b "Urban Waste Water Directive Overview". European Commission. Retrieved 2009-07-19. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "Implementation of Council Directive 91/271/EEC of 21 May 1991 concerning urban waste water treatment, as amended by Commission Directive 98/15/EC of 27 February 1998" (pdf). European Commission. 2004-04-23. Retrieved 2009-07-19. 
  4. ^ a b . Weale, Albert; Geoffrey Pridham; Michelle Cini; Martin Porter (2000). Environmental governance in Europe: an ever closer ecological union?. Oxford University Press. p. 363. ISBN 978-0-19-829708-6. 

External links[edit]