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Wastewater Permitting: how are the EU Industrial Emissions & Water Framework Di-rectives presenting an emerging risk to Germany operators?

05 June 2016

More than five years after its entry into force in January 2011, the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED - an EU directive committing member states to control industrial emissions) has finally been transposed into the national legislations of all EU member states. Additionally, the EU driven Water Framework Directive has been adopted within German law.

The implementation of both Directives into German law has significant impact on operation of water discharging facilities and how they are permitted. 

Apart from stricter technical standards, direct implication for industry includes the increasing complexity of the permitting process and a related growing need for investments.

The current and future Legislation
The Water Act and its regulations contain provisions on the protection and use of surface water and groundwater. These provisions are generally addressed to governmental authorities and include:

  • An overall target the quality of water bodies to be “good” or very good”. Since most of the surface waters in Germany do currently not meet this quality target, authorities are obliged to improve surface water quality by so-called water management plans

  • Prohibition of deterioration of the current status of water bodies 

In the course of enforcement of the above, the individual requirements for industrial dischargers may increase significantly. In addition, granting a permit according Water Act is a discretionary decision by the authority.

In the course reducing industrial emissions, the EU is developing a set of guidelines (Best Available Techniques - BAT) for various industrial activities. Once the BAT documents have been summarized and published as BAT Conclusion documents, member states are required to adopt these into national law. Otherwise BAT Conclusions will be valid directly in all states after 4 years after publication. The expected emission bandwidths for wastewater discharge may only be a fraction of those previously permitted under the provisions of the Water Management Act (i.e. heavy metals, nitrogen).

What are the Complexities?
Existing permits for direct discharge of industrial wastewater usually terminate after 20 - 30 years. Many where provided in the 1980´s and 1990´s and will expire within the next 5-10 years. Legislation has been changing over the past few years significantly and the technical requirements as well as the application process has become far more complex:

  • Stricter emission requirements: the targets of governmental water management plans may influence the current and future wastewater discharges to surface waters by restrictions for certain parameters or even heat. In addition, BAT-Conclusions may require a reduction of the discharge limitations.

  • Increasingly complex permitting processes: to be granted a discharge permit, companies must consequently provide more detailed proof that the water is adversely affected. This may include a detailed technical documentation, a comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and public consultation 

  • Environmental Impact Assessment and Prohibition of Deterioration: the prohibi-tion of deterioration requires dischargers to demonstrate non-deterioration within the application process. The criteria include ecological and morphological aspects and more than 160 physical-chemical parameters to be potentially addressed.

To apply for renewal, the operators of discharging facilities have to consider that the evolving field of Water Management is not typically the core consideration of a business. Documentation of the existing wastewater infrastructure may be not up-to-date and staff resources may be limited.

Considering the above, the application process including authority management might take up more than two years, with high cost impacts depending on the size of the plant.

Whats your roadmap?
Companies whose water law permits are about to expire in the next few years should understand the new provisions stipulated under the IED and Water Framework Directive. The following provides a few possible steps that should help with some of the more basic aspects of readiness:

  • Check whether there is a BAT Conclusion existing or upcoming for your specific process; verify the requirements that are applicable for your process
  • Verify the technical status of your wastewater infrastructure – the authority may request a State-of-the-Art expertise
  • Verify the status of documentation related to your wastewater infrastructure
  • Contact the water authority at an early stage of the application process to understand any specific requirements and documentation for the application process
  • Verify the critical timeline, i.e. driven by an EIA field survey
  • For larger discharge permits, a Stakeholder Engagement Plan to address community concerns may be applicable

With all these factors in mind, it is recommended to consider the special requirements of a new water law permit at least two years before the current water law permit expires.

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