Belgium: EIB and Société wallonne des eaux sign €250 million loan for climate resilience investment

(Source: European Investment Bank)

  • The EIB is reiterating its commitment to the Walloon operator, supporting its 2022-2026 investment programme. This partnership was formed in 2006.
  • 78 municipalities and 560 000 households are involved.
  • For SWDE, climate change mitigation and adaptation go hand in hand with infrastructure modernisation a secure supply.
  • This new plan is fully in line with the EIB Climate Bank Roadmap and the Paris Agreement.

At 10:30 on Friday 13 May 2022, European Investment Bank (EIB) Vice-President Kris Peeters and Société wallonne des eaux (SWDE) Management Committee President Eric Van Sevenant signed a €250 million loan in Verviers-Stembert, Belgium. This is the fourth operation since 2006 between the EU bank and the Wallonia-based operator, which is the main water producer and distributor in the region.

This new €250 million EU loan will go towards modernisation projects under SWDE’s 2022-2026 investment programme. The agreements signed are part of a sustainable development strategy pursued by both partners under EU and regional climate objectives. SWDE has also made a commitment to optimising water quality and cost and providing state-of-the-art facilities and management.

For over a decade, SWDE has been applying a proactive investment strategy to improve its water production and distribution infrastructure (a minimum of €100 million a year), while guaranteeing an affordable water supply for as many people as possible.

Fourth loan in 16 years

Since a previous €200 million EIB loan was granted in November 2016, SWDE’s investment has reached an average of €120 million a year and its prices have remained unchanged (frozen since December 2014). SWDE’s staff and partners ensure it keeps its promises and puts its public service ambition under the motto “Water for all, today and tomorrow” into practice.

Some of the investment projects implemented by SWDE are part of a regional water resource development scheme that is a key element of the Walloon Government’s comprehensive drought strategy. They cover €400 million invested in 400 km of large transport pipes, 12 pumping stations, nine reservoirs, two treatment plants and three water towers. They are financially supported by the government in view of their regional importance.

Their structural nature for the water sector means that SWDE’s investments have an impact on the resilience of the water supply to climate change across Wallonia through enhanced cooperation with other operators.

Investments for climate resilience in the water sector

SWDE Management Committee President Eric Van Sevenant welcomed the renewed trust the EIB has placed in SWDE, stressing that, “thanks to the EIB’s valuable assistance, these important projects, which are key for Wallonia and its people against a backdrop of climate change, can be implemented on favourable time scales and conditions.”

He also presented the Wallonia-level strategy that should — again with the mobilisation of all water operators working on the production or distribution of drinking water or wastewater treatment — make it possible to ensure the region’s water resources are managed sustainably, in view of the likely impact of climate change.

This commitment was fully supported by EIB Vice-President Kris Peeters, who said: “Sustainable water management and infrastructure changes in the coming years are part of the solution for mitigating global warming-related risks. These priorities are shared by the EIB. This is why we are working with SWDE to support its investment programme, with direct impact on people, their environment, their household budgets and their quality of life. As the EU climate bank, we are fully behind this partnership and sustainability.”

With this in mind, SWDE is already implementing initiatives such as improving the efficiency of distribution networks and introducing circular feeding systems that promote the reuse of used water. This climate resilience-based strategy will be the guiding force behind SWDE’s investments over the next few years.

The EIB Vice-President also highlighted another recent consequence of climate change: “Wallonia was hit by unprecedented floods less than a year ago, especially in this very region. The EIB reacted as quickly as possible and stepped up its efforts to sign the largest financing operation ever implemented in Belgium, with €1.1 billion to rebuild riverbanks and social housing. Together with SWDE, we are applying a strategy of adaptation and long-term management of the risks of ongoing climate change,” concluded Kris Peeters.

Background information:

The EIB — the EU bank — has become the EU climate bank. Over 1 600 projects and almost €79 billion in financing granted make it the world’s largest lender to the water sector. It financed €1.63 billion of projects in this domain in 2021, thereby helping to improve access to safe drinking water for around 10 million people.

In 2021, the Bank granted €3.42 billion in loans for Belgian projects in various sectors, including research and innovation, healthcare, water management, education and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

SWDE is Wallonia’s main drinking water producer and distributor. The limited liability cooperative company provides water to just over 1 million connections, covering around 2.5 million people in 190 municipalities. SWDE employees 1 350 people who manage the operation of 235 catchment areas, 1 317 reservoirs and water towers and 39 178 km of pipes. In view of the extent of the area served and the infrastructure needed to provide the drinking water service, and also considering the density of connections per kilometre of pipes on its network, SWDE falls into the rural operators category in the European water supply companies benchmark.

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