NAWAMED project: joint efforts are necessary to face institutional fragmentation and legislative bottlenecks to close the water-related loop


Interview with Giulia Cipolletta, PhD student at the Università Politecnica delle Marche (UNIVPM).  Currently, her main activities concern the sustainable recovery of urban water cycle residuals for safe materials valorisation. The interdepartmental UNIVPM cluster for water science and engineering includes R&D&I experts including also advanced wastewater treatment, valorisation and reuse and circular economy in the water cycle. As coordinator of the Horizon 2020 SMART-Plant innovation, UNIVPM is member of the steering committee of the first signed Innovation Deal concerning water reuse. Furthermore, it’s partner of the Horizon 2020 HYDROUSA project which test innovative, regenerative and circular solutions for nature-based water management of Mediterranean coastal areas, closing water loops. 

Working to those projects, Giulia Cipolletta contributed also to edit the article “Policy and legislative barriers to close water-related loops in innovative small water and wastewater systems in Europe: A critical analysis” (Science Direct – Elsevier – Cleaner Production)  and we asked her few lines to focus on the tackled issue.

In fact, one of the preliminary issues to foster a new pathway for the water management, including the valorisation and reuse and circular economy in the water cycle, is related to the possible decentralisation of the treatment plants. 

Decentralisation is a crucial factor for the implementation of an Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM), especially in rural or remote areas where people have to face with resource scarcity or live without a safe access to water or sanitation systems. However, although decentralization represents a valuable shift, small-scale systems are sometimes poorly supported due to limited human, technical, and financial resources

The challenge is thus to foster the implementation of IWRM, proposing innovative, sustainable, and low-cost treatment technologies, applicable in a decentralised way, as proposed by HYDROUSA and NAWAMED. 

Although in Italy and at Mediterranean level no major barriers are detected for the adoption of a decentralisation approach, the implementation of small-scale solutions is sometimes complicated due to institutional fragmentation and legislative bottlenecks. To fully deliver resource recovery and sustainable water management a co-existence of a proper enabling environment, institutional capacity and management instruments is essential

Horizon 2020 projects, such as HYDROUSA and NAWAMED, can share useful information at technical level, according with the six demonstration sites at full scale implemented in three Mediterranean islands developed by HYDROUSA, but also they can collaborate to drive the Mediterranean debate on this crucial issue. 

Including decentralized solutions as regeneration actions to close the water loops within the small communities is a fundamental step. It can help to improve social wellbeing and to reduce and mitigate environmental pressures and risks. However, still more and more efforts are needed to provide ad-hoc guidelines for decentralized systems to extend the circularity approach to small communities

This mutual learning approach between projects will be very important for the capitalization strategy to be developed by NAWAMED. We are stronger Together!