Water Quality, the Next Big Challenge for Water Regulators

Rarely a day goes by without a news report, academic research or a government policy paper telling us that water security is at risk at a global scale. Identifying the problem is the easy part, but what can we do to fix it?

Much of the water we use in our homes – showering, flushing the toilet, and doing laundry – is still emptied untreated into our rivers, lakes and coasts. Animal waste and fertilizers are mixing with hormones and chemicals from beauty and pharmaceutical products, threatening water resources all over the world. New products add new chemicals to this mix each and every day.

The OECD (the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) has said that the amount of fresh water we need for all human activities is increasing, and will be 55% higher by 2050. Where will all the extra water come from to flush nearly double the number of toilets? Where will the resulting wastewater go? Competition between water uses – industrial processes, energy production, food production and manufacture, drinking water, sanitation – is on the rise. A failure to develop more efficient, innovative and wiser water policies and regulations will only intensify these pressures.

The multiple interlinking challenges facing water quality mean that dealing with these problems requires more than just water quality standards. To address this and other regulatory issues, regulators from 30 different countries met last month in London at the 2nd International Water Regulators Forum. Water sector authorities joined their energy, public health, economic and environment counterparts, to discuss implementation of international best practice and principles for better public policy, regulation and water governance. Their main focus? Resource optimisation, innovation and cross sector cooperation.

The diversity of countries with a variety of regulatory frameworks means that there is no one-size-fits-all solution: institutional differences, social, economic, geographical and geopolitical differences make this impossible. However, many successful regulatory approaches have been adopted that address implementation of regulations in one sector, which also consider impacts on the environment and other water uses in the basin.

In Hungary, the energy regulator became the water regulator in 2013, concentrating these roles into one authority. The excellent reputation of the old energy authority lent strength to water sector regulation by building on existing trust and efficiency. Looking to create more efficiency, the Canadian province of Alberta established a new body to became a ‘regulator on all fronts’, inheriting powers from the environment authority to deal with all water-related matters in the energy sector.

In France the water regulator is the Ministry of Environment. An overall policy for water is financed by taxes from all water users according to their impact on water, incentivising the reduction of pollution but also contributing to aquatic biodiversity and improving catchment areas. In England and Wales, it is all about incorporating the natural capital value of water and social, economic and environmental benefits. A new regime for water access and allocation is being developed, combining market rules and government control so water use adjusts dynamically to changing scenarios.

Merge or divide, the truth is that regulators find dialogue with others helpful, and by sharing the ‘how-to’ of better regulation and policy, better understand their own challenges. The task of preparing policies and regulations to better manage water qualities that are ‘fit for purpose’, can benefit from the wide range of guidelines, standards and practices currently available.

Not forgetting that regulations are only as good as the capacity of those implementing and controlling them. Regulators require training and practical tools to implement regulations, while lessons learned elsewhere can help identify opportunities for cooperation or institutional strengthening. Regulators can now call upon platforms for exchanging experiences, transferring skills and building partnerships, and new tools like the Compendium of Water Quality Regulatory Frameworks and the Lisbon Charter to inform the dialogue on water security.


The Compendium of Water Quality Regulatory Frameworks will be launched this October 19th in Jordan during the IWA Water and Development Congress and Exhibition amongst stakeholders and decision makers. The launching is a stepping stone for a more informed science and policy dialogue, better assessment of existing regulations and to enabling the preparation of new ones that take advantage of the use of different water qualities to address increasing challenges caused by water quality deterioration.


Don’t miss the water quality debate a the IWA Water and Development Congress (Jordan 18-22 October):


Water Quality for Ecosystems: Tools from Regulation to Implementation

Date: Monday 19 October, 09.40 – 11.00 

What is the role of regulatory approaches in securing water quality for environmental health?

Water quality guidelines and standards, as well as similar regulatory mechanisms are important in the use and protection of freshwater ecosystems. They can provide a framework for guiding monitoring and implementation to secure ecosystem and public health through managing and regulating water allocations, discharge, quality of water for different uses, etc. This workshop will explore the challenges and opportunities for implementation of standards and guidelines, and how regulatory frameworks can promote water efficiency and wise use.

Katharine Cross (IWA) will set the scene for presentations by Birguy Lamizana (UNEP), Susan Kilani (Water Authority of Jordan) and Etidal Elrayah Malik (Ministry of Water Resources, Irrigation and Electricity), and a panel discussion with speakers and Salah Hiyari (MoH Jordan).

Want to connect with the IWA at the Water and Development Congress? Find us in the Exhibition, Stand #108


Documents and reports attached to this page