Urban Waste Water: Commission decides to refer MALTA to the Court of Justice of the European Union over waste water treatment

(Source: European Commission)

The Commission decided today to refer Malta to the Court of Justice of the European Union for failure to comply with the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (Directive 91/271/EEC). The Directive requires Member States to ensure that urban agglomerations (towns, cities, settlements) properly collect and treat their waste waters, thus eliminating or reducing all their undesirable effects when they are discharged into water bodies.

The European Green Deal sets a Zero Pollution ambition for the EU. EU legislation, such as the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive, aims to protect human health and safeguard the natural environment, and it is essential that Member States implement it fully.

Malta should have been fully compliant with the Directive since 31 March 2007. The main issue in Malta is the performance of the waste water treatment plants. The Maltese agglomerations have a municipal collecting system in place and the waste water is being directed to a treatment plant, however, the waste waters exiting the treatment plants do not meet the quality requirements of the directive. This is particularly the case for the ‘Malta North’ agglomeration, since its waters are being discharged in a sensitive area, they should be subject to even more stringent treatment. This situation is mainly due to the discharge of farmyard waste (animal manure) into the municipal waste water system, a long-standing problem in Malta, which hampers the performance of the treatment plants and for which the authorities have not yet found solutions.

The Commission sent a letter of formal notice to Malta in December 2016, followed by a reasoned opinion in October 2017. Despite some progress, the Maltese authorities have not fully addressed the grievances. The Commission considers that efforts by the Maltese authorities have to date been unsatisfactory and insufficient and is therefore referring Malta to the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Background

Untreated waste water can be contaminated with bacteria and viruses and thus presents a risk to human health. It also contains nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus which can damage freshwaters and the marine environment, by promoting excessive growth of algae that chokes other life, a process known as eutrophication.

The Commission published in September 2020 the 10th report on the implementation of the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive that showed an overall improvement in collection and treatment of waste water in Europe’s cities and towns, but pointed to varying success levels between the Member States.

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