Main authors: Cors van den Brink, Sarah Zernitz, Alma de Vries
Editor: Jane Brandt
Source document: »van den Brink, C. et al. (2021) Lessons Learned and Recommendations for Water Safety Plans. FAIRWAY Project Deliverable 2.4, 97 pp


References cited in articles in this section of FAIRWAYiS

  • Bartram, J. (2009). Water safety plan manual: step-by-step risk management for drinking-water suppliers. World Health Organization.
  • BTO, 2018. REFLECT: beoordeling van de risico’s van landgebruik voor grondwaterwinningen. Herziene versie van het instrument uit 1999, inclusief Implementatie van de keileemkaart.
  • CIS Working Group Groundwater 2017/2018. “Questionnaire on better consideration of drinking water resource protection in river basin management planning”. Draft summarizing report.
  • Davison, A., Howard, G., Stevens, M., Callan, P., Fewtrell, L., Deere, D., Bartram, J., & World Health Organization. (2005). Water safety plans: managing drinking-water quality from catchment to consumer (No. WHO/SDE/WSH/05.06). Geneva: World Health Organization.
  • Drinking Water Inspectorate (2005). A brief guide to drinking water safety plans. Obtainable from
  • European Commission (2016). ‘REFIT Evaluation of the Drinking Water Directive 98/83/EC’ SWD(2016) 428 final.
  • European Commission (2017) ‘Agriculture and sustainable water management in the EU’. SWD(2017) 153 European Commision (2019a). “Implementation of the Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC) and the Floods Directive (2007/60/EC), Second River Basin Management Plans, First Flood Risk Management Plans”. Brussels, 26.2.2019 SWD(2019) 30 final.
  • European Commision (2019b). “Fitness Check of the Water Framework Directive, Groundwater Directive, Environmental Quality Standards Directive and Floods Directive. Brussels, 10.12.2019 SWD(2019) 439 final.
  • Fewtrell, L., & Bartram, J. (Eds.). (2001). Water quality: guidelines, standards & health. IWA publishing.
  • Hrudey, S. E., Hrudey, E. J., & Pollard, S. J. (2006). Risk management for assuring safe drinking water. Environment International, 32(8), 948-957.
  • Hulsmann, A., & Smeets, P. (2011). Towards a guidance document for the implementation of a risk- Assessment for small water supplies in the European Union. Overview of best practices. Nieuwegein: KWR Watercycle Research Institute.
  • Klaassens, E., Kros, H., Romkens, P., de Vries, W., Hulsmann, A., Schellekens, J., (2015). Study to support The COM Evaluation of the EU Drinking Water Directive. Ecorys Rotterdam.
  • Mayr, E., Lukas, A., Aichlseder, W., & Perfler, R. (2012). Experiences and lessons learned from practical implementation of a software-supported water safety plan (WSP) approach. Water Science and Technology: Water Supply, 12(1), 101-108.
  • Medema, G. J., Payment, P., Dufour, A., Robertson, W., Waite, M., Hunter, P., Kirby, R., & Andersson, Y. (2003). Safe drinking water: an ongoing challenge. Assessing Microbial Safety of Drinking Water, 11.
  • Royal HaskoningDHV, 2019. Gebiedsdossiers Leggeloo.
  • Simpson, H. C., & De Loe, R. C. (2020). Challenges and opportunities from a paradigm shift in groundwater governance. Hydrogeology Journal, 28(2), 467-476.
  • Tavasolifar, A., Bina, B., Amin, M. M., Ebrahimi, A., & Jalali, M. (2012). Implementation of hazard analysis and critical control points in the drinking water supply system. International Journal of Environmental Health Engineering, 1(1), 32.
  • van den Berg, H. H. J. L., Friederichs, L., Versteegh, J. F. M., Smeets, P. W. M. H., & de Roda Husman, A. M. (2019). How current risk assessment and risk management methods for drinking water in The Netherlands cover the WHO water safety plan approach. International journal of hygiene and environmental health, 222(7), 1030-1037.
  • Van den Brink, C., M. Buitenkamp, J. van Essen and A. Nass (2005). Gebiedsdossiers als instrument voor gebiedsgericht grondwaterbeschermingsbeleid [Drinking water protection files as an instrument for regional groundwater protection policy; in Dutch]. Bodem no. 3, p. 122-124.
  • Van den Brink, C and S. Wuijts (2016). Towards an effective protection of groundwater resources: putting policy into practice with the Drinking Water Protection File. Water Policy. Water Policy 18 (2016) 635–653. doi: 10.2166/wp.2015.197 World Health Organization. (2011). Small-scale water supplies in the pan-European region: background. challenges. improvements.
  • World Health Organization. (2012). Water safety planning for small community water supplies: step-by-step risk management guidance for drinking-water supplies in small communites. World Health Organization.
  • World Health Organization. (2017). Global status report on water safety plans: a review of proactive risk assessment and risk management practices to ensure the safety of drinking-water (No. WHO/FWC/WSH/17.03). World Health Organization.
  • Wuijts, S., van Rijswick, H. F. M. W., & Dik, H. H. J. (2008). Gebiedsdossiers voor drinkwaterbronnen, uitwerking van risico's en ontwikkeling van maatregelen. RIVM rapport 73430103. E.2

Institutional sources:


Main authors: Cors van den Brink, Sarah Zernitz, Alma de Vries
Editor: Jane Brandt
Source document: »van den Brink, C. et al. (2021) Lessons Learned and Recommendations for Water Safety Plans. FAIRWAY Project Deliverable 2.4, 97 pp


Waterborne diseases are still an important health concern in the world. Many people all over the world lack access to safe drinking water. This has significant health consequences and impedes socio-economic development. During the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) era, the access to improved water supplies has increased. However, monitoring was focused on the access to water. With the start of the Sustainable Development Goals era, this has changed. Through Sustainable Development Goal 6, “countries around the world have expressed strong political will to ensure drinking-water is universally safe” (World Health Organization, 2017, iii). Coupled to SDG6 is an indicator which facilitates the measurement of the SDG target 6.1 (By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking-water for all). With this, the attention has shifted to improving water quality of water supplies – ensuring that the water supplied is safe.

Safe drinking water is vital for the health and wellbeing of all. However, providing safe drinking water can be a complex challenge. “An estimated 663 million people remain without access to an improved source of drinking-water. Many more still lack access to safe drinking-water, with at least 1.8 billion people relying on water sources that are faecally contaminated” (World Health Organization, 2017, iii). In order to ensure the safety of a supply, proactive water supply system management is required (World Health Organization, 2017).

Since the mid-1970s European drinking water policy has been in place. This has proved to be an important element for ensuring high drinking water quality throughout the European Union. The European Drinking Water Directive (DWD) lays down the obligations for Member States in “providing clean and wholesome water to all citizens receiving their drinking water through a water supply serving more than 50 persons, through a smaller commercial water supply or through a supply which is public.” The European Drinking water Directive (DWD) 98/83/EC set the legal framework to protect human health from the adverse effects of any contamination of water intended for human consumption by ensuring that it is wholesome and clean. Preventive safety planning and risk-based elements were only considered to a limited extent in Directive 98/83/EC.

The evaluation of the DWD (EC 2016) assessed the coherence with the Water Framework Directive (WFD) and identified a missing link in the DWD as regards protecting drinking water resources. Therefore, the 2018 proposal for a recast of the DWD is introducing a risk based approach from abstraction to tap, and improving communication between Member States’ authorities and water suppliers to ensure there is a full governance cycle for water. The proposal aims to improve coherence between the two Directives and ensure that the polluter pays principle and the precautionary principle both apply.

On 16 December 2020, the European Parliament formally adopted a revised Drinking Water Directive. The revised Drinking Water Directive comes as a result of the REFIT evaluation, the implementation of the Commission's response to the European Citizens' Initiative 'Right2Water' and as a contribution to meeting the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The limited reliance on a risk-based approach was identified as one of the areas in which improvement could be made (Klaassens, 2015). Furthermore, the Right2Water initiative displayed that part of the population, in particular marginalised groups, has no access to water intended for human consumption. Providing such access is a commitment under Goal 6 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The concept of a water safety plan introduced in 2004 by the WHO has become more important in particular in response to microbiological-related challenges. It offers opportunities to concentrate time and resources on risks that matter and to avoid analyses on non-occurring parameters, in particular in small supplies with risks easy to survey (EC, 2016). These elements of a risk-based approach are taken up in the recap of the DWD.

Thus, the renewed Drinking Water Directive is not restricted to obligations related to the monitoring and sampling of water supplies. In effect, it requires Member States to identify, analyse and assess risks to the safety of the supply. This requires a risk assessment / risk management approach (RA/RM) based on the following three components:

  1. “Identification of the hazards associated with the catchment areas for abstraction points (“risk assessment and risk management of the catchment areas for abstraction points of water intended for human consumption”), in line with the WHO Guidelines and Water Safety Plan Manual.
  2. A possibility for the water supplier to adapt monitoring to the main risks and to take the necessary measures to manage the risks identified in the supply chain from the abstraction, treatment, storage and distribution of water (“risk assessment and risk management of the supply system”).
  3. An assessment of the potential risks stemming from domestic distribution systems, such as Legionella or lead (“risk assessment of the domestic distribution systems”), with special focus on priority premises. Those assessments should be regularly reviewed, inter alia, in response to threats from climate-related extreme weather events, known changes of human activity in the abstraction area or in response to source-related incidents.

The risk-based approach should ensure a continuous exchange of information between competent authorities and water suppliers.” (European Commission, 2020) The risk-based approach should be applied by all water suppliers, including small water suppliers, as the evaluation of Directive 98/83/EC showed deficiencies in its implementation by those suppliers. The second River Basin Management Plans (RBMP) shows that for drinking water protection, most member states have defined, or are in the process of defining, specific zones including specific water protection measures and apply basic measures. In several countries, there are also supplementary measures. Safeguard zones around drinking water abstractions are established for nearly 80% of the RBMPs (EC 2019a). While basic measures are mandatory in most cases, the supplementary measures are mostly applied on a voluntary basis and are linked to the EU Rural Development Programs under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Safeguard zones and drinking water protected areas are established in a majority of EU countries and occupy large surfaces of the countries (up to 21% of country size for safeguard zones) (CIS, 2017/18).

Despite these efforts for drinking water protection, representatives from the water service companies pointed out in the consultation of the Fitness Check of the WFD (EC 2019b) that the need to treat drinking water is increasing, which comes at a cost to consumers.

An example of a RA/RM approach is the Water Safety Plan (WSP) approach. The Water Safety Plan framework is defined as the systematic approach to ensure water safety, covering all stages of water supply production and distribution from catchment to consumer. The concept of WSPs was introduced in the third edition of the WHO Guidelines for Drinking-water Quality (GDWQ) and the International Water Association (IWA) Bonn Charter for Safe Drinking Water in 2004. Water Safety Planning is promoted as the approach that can ensure that the water supplied is safe. The approach of Water Safety Planning has been adopted worldwide. A survey carried out by WHO and IWA in 2017 shows that since its introduction in 2004 WSPs have been implemented in 93 countries, representing every region of the world (World Health Organization, 2017, 2). However, 30% of the implementing countries have not yet moved from the early adoption stage to wider implementation (World Health Organization, 2017, 2). Especially for small supplies, WSP adoption has been low. Furthermore, the quality of drinking water that is supplied by these small systems does not always meet the standards as laid out in the European Drinking Water Directive 98/83/EC.

Agriculture is one of the sources of pollution that can be identified in the Water Safety Plan. Agriculture is the biggest source of pesticides and nitrate pollution in European fresh waters (call text). The quality of groundwater and surface water (used to produce drinking water) impacts greatly the level and cost of treatment. Diffuse pollution as a result of the use of pesticides and fertilisers remains an obstacle to achieving the Water Framework Directive objectives (call text). Monitoring this pollution is challenging, since there is a high number of registered pesticides, the analyses are costly, and there is a need for samples to be taken during periods of application and use and in diverse weather conditions. Furthermore, the time dynamics, with the delay between activities above the ground and the reaction in the groundwater is challenging. The Water Safety Plan, as a RA/RM approach, is a tool that helps to overcome these challenges and can help to improve/preserve the quality of drinking water resources from agricultural pollution.

It has been 15 years since the Water Safety Plan approach was first coined. Over the years, research has been done on uptake, and manuals/guides have been produced on how to set up a Water Safety Plan. In this section of FAIRWAYiS we focus on agricultural pollution and go into depth on how to carry out the specific steps of the assessment of vulnerability, hazards and risks. Through this, it aims to raise awareness on the benefits of water safety planning, build capacity for successful WSP implementation, and contribute to the development of appropriate monitoring and decision-support tools that help to develop and implement governance models to preserve the quality of drinking water resources.


Note: For full references to papers quoted in this article see




Main authors: Cors van den Brink, Sarah Zernitz, Alma de Vries
Editor: Jane Brandt
Source document: »van den Brink, C. et al. (2021) Lessons Learned and Recommendations for Water Safety Plans. FAIRWAY Project Deliverable 2.4, 97 pp


Contents table
1. Importance of the risk assessment/risk management approach 
2. The Water Safety Plan
3. Small and large water supply systems

1. Importance of the risk assessment/risk management approach

Drinking water is monitored to ensure that it is safe and of adequate quality, as the final product of the production chain. Monitoring this final product has been the norm and standard practice in order to assess whether it is of sufficient quality. However, risks might be detected too late, or are possibly not detected at all. This has consequences for public health. For this reason, risk based approaches for the drinking water supply system as a whole have come into being (Van den Berg et al., 2019).

This change in paradigm is closely related to the emergence of the concept of “due diligence”. The concept means the prevention of foreseeable harm at reasonable cost. “Demonstration of due diligence requires showing that all reasonable measures have been taken in advance to prevent the occurrence of negative health consequences” (Medema et al., 2003, 23, Figure 2). When an effect is identified that could possibly have an adverse effect, an approach should be used that is precautionary and assesses and manages the risks.

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Figure 2

The goal of a risk management approach is to assure safe drinking water. Hrudey et al. (2006) point the attention to the need to consider what is safe. They argue that the concept of safety has impeded the debates about risk management for years, and propose a notion of safety as “a level of risk so negligible that a reasonable, well-informed individual need not be concerned about it, nor find any rational basis to change his/her behaviour to avoid such a small, but non-zero risk. [....] In the context of drinking water, and given our current capability for reducing risks, this notion of safe drinking water should mean that we do not expect to die or become seriously ill from drinking or using it.” (Hrudey et al., 2006, 3).

Hrudey et al. (2006, 3) define four characteristics of risk management for safe drinking water, as described by the Walkerton Inquiry:

  • “Being preventive rather than reactive.
  • Distinguishing greater risks from lesser ones and dealing first with the former.
  • Taking time to learn from experience; and
  • Investing resources in risk management that are proportional to the danger posed.” (Hrudey et al., 2006, 3).

Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) is an example of a RA/RM approach. The HACCP approach came into being in the 1990s through the projects of Pillsbury Company in their research on food production for the US space program. The principles and approach of HACCP have since been applied in the food sector for food safety management. HACCP is based on three principles: understanding the system, prioritizing the risks, and establishing control measures to reduce the risks. In 1994, Havelaar investigated the use of HACCP for drinking water supply systems. Back then, some countries already required a HACCP approach, since water supply was regulated through regulations for food protection. A number of utility companies started to apply the HACCP principles. The ‘Catchment to consumer’ approach to risk management, as illustrated below, is based on the HACCP principles (Fewtrell and Bartram, 2001).

A group of experts started to investigate the potential to create more coherence between risk assessment and -management approaches for water-related microbial hazards. This has led to the Stockholm Framework, which further examined the use and value of HACCP for drinking water supplies (Fewtrell and Bartram, 2001). Consequently, the ‘Framework for Safe Drinking-water’ was defined in the third edition of the WHO Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality. This included the setting of health-based targets, an RA/RM approach and independent surveillance (van den Berg et al., 2019) This RA/RM approach was coined the Water Safety Plan (WSP).

2. The Water Safety Plan

The main starting point for the setting of water quality standards worldwide are the World Health Organization Guidelines. The Guidelines for Drinking-water Quality (GDWQ) is one of the three guidelines concerned with water quality. All three have the main aim of improving health. An instrument that is promoted in this context is the Water Safety Plan (WSP).

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Figure 3

The WSP is a step-wise approach to ensure the safety of drinking water. It is a comprehensive risk assessment and risk management approach, that covers all steps in the water supply. The goal of a WSP is to ensure, through good water supply practice, that drinking water is safe. This means:

  • “to prevent contamination of source waters;
  • to treat the water to reduce or remove contamination that could be present to the extent necessary to meet the water quality targets; and
  • to prevent re-contamination during storage, distribution and handling of drinking-water.” (Davison et al., 2005, 11, Figure 3).

These objectives apply to all kinds of water supplies, regardless the size or complexity (Drinking Water Inspectorate, 2005). A WSP has three components:

  • System assessment: The WSP team identifies the potential hazards, the level of risk these potential hazards pose, and the control measures that can ensure that the water supply is safe.
  • Operational monitoring: monitoring of the control measures.
  • Documentation of management arrangements: Documentation of the system assessment, operational monitoring, management procedures, supporting programmes etc. These three components are divided in eleven steps, from assembling the team to revising the WSP, as can be seen in Box 1. This report focuses on steps three and four.
Box 1: Documentation of Water Safety Plan in 11 steps
Preparation: 1. Assemble the WSP team
System assessment: 2. Describe the water supply system
3. Identify the hazards and assess the risks
4. Determine and validate control measures, reassess and prioritize the risks
5. Develop, implement, and maintain an improvement/upgrade plan
Operational monitoring: 6. Define monitoring of control measures
7. Verify the effectiveness of the WSP
 Management and communication: 8. Prepare management procedures
9. Develop supporting programmes
 Feedback: 10. Plan and carry out periodic review of the WSP
11. Revise the WSP following an incident

An important element of the WSP approach is that it combines both content and process. On the content side, it is about describing the water supply system, assessing hazards and risks and determining measures. But of similar importance is the status of the WSP and its place in the organization, the mandate of the team, the budget and management commitment. This management commitment is essential for a WSP to be succesfull (Drinking Water Inspectorate, 2005).

It is important that the WSP and the approach is embedded within the organization, and is part of the operating/management procedures rather than being a one-time activity. The WSP has two unique characteristics. The WHO (2011) argues that it is easily adaptable to different socioeconomic systems, and it can be effectively applied at different levels and scales.

3. Small and large water supply systems

Often a distinction is made between small and large water supply systems. However, the definitions used to describe small- and large-scale supply systems differ widely between (and even within) countries. Often, the characterization of the supply is based on specific criteria like population size, type of supply technology, quantity of water supplied, size of the supply area etc. This FAIRWAY report however distinguishes between small and large water supply systems because of their characteristics that affect Water Safety Plan implementation. Small supplies face challenges in setting up and implementing a WSP. These challenges relate to administration, management, operation and the regulatory context (WHO, 2011). It is those challenges that set small systems distinctly apart from large supplies, and thus define them in this context. Box 2 describes the challenges typically faced by small water supplies.

Box 2: Challenges for small supplies (as adapted from WHO, 2011)
  • Small supplies are regulated in a different way than larger supplies. Under the EU Drinking Water Directive, systems that supply less than 10 m3 a day / fewer than 50 individuals can be exempt from the requirements of the Drinking Water Directive (DWD). National governments thus do not have to put in place regulatory requirements for small systems. In the case that regulatory requirements are in place, enforcement is often weak, which is often a result of their large number or their geographical spread.
  • Requirements related to monitoring freqencies are often based on population size. This means that small supplies are only monitored a few times a year, or exempt from monitoring. Furthermore, often reporting is not required. This results in a low availability of data on drinking water quality of small supplies.
  • As a result of few political attention and lack of organization, financial and political support is hard to leverage.
  • Low level of awareness and knowledge of water-related risks.
  • Little political priority due to lack of sense of responsibility among local decision-makers.
  • Lack of personnel with specialized knowledge.
  • Difficult access to information and technical support as a result of the large geographical spread.
  • Lack of knowledge on relevant international standards and approaches.
  • High vulnerability to contamination as a result of a lack of integrated approaches for water resource protection.
  • Limited use of water treatment technologies.
  • More vulnerable to breakdown, as a result of poor maintenance and lack of electricity.
  • Greater capital costs for technical installations.
  • Lack of financial mechanisms to cover the costs for monitoring, maintenance and operation.

During a FAIRWAY field visit very small drinking water supplies were examined in Romania. In Figure 4, a Roma family and their small (private) drinking water well can be seen. These wells are mostly 10-20 m depth, in the first aquifer below a shallow clay layer on top.

In the recap of the Drinking Water Directive there is special attention to vulnerable groups in society and their access to water intended for human consumption. Member States are asked to pay specific attention to vulnerable and marginalised groups, such as refugees, nomadic communities, homeless people and minority cultures such as Roma and Travellers, whether sedentary or not. Examples of measures to improve access that are mentioned in the recap of the DWD are providing alternative supply systems, such as individual treatment devices, providing water through the use of tankers, such as truck and cisterns, and ensuring the necessary infrastructure for camps.

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Figure 4

Examples of Water Safety Plans, both of large and small supplies, can be found in »Annexes 1 and 2 respectively. Annex 1 provides an example of a Water Safety Plan for a Dutch public drinking water supply. It shows the following elements of the WSP: description of the water system and the surroundings, water quality and quantity, land use of recharge area, risks and relevant developments, and remaining problems/tasks. Annex 2 provides an example of a Water Safety Plan for a small supply in the Netherlands. The factsheet is made for small-scale abstraction sites, which include water supplies for drinking water consumption other than those for public drinking water supply. These are mainly privately owned groundwater abstractions used by third parties as drinking water (e.g. campsites and holiday parks) as well as industrial sites, that abstract groundwater for food production.



For full references to papers quoted in this article see »References

Download Annex 1

Download Annex 2


Main authors: Cors van den Brink, Sarah Zernitz, Alma de Vries
Editor: Jane Brandt
Source document: »van den Brink, C. et al. (2021) Lessons Learned and Recommendations for Water Safety Plans. FAIRWAY Project Deliverable 2.4, 97 pp


Contents table
1. Literature review
2. Involvement of FAIRWAY case studies 
3. Learning module

1. Literature review

To start the task and to prepare stakeholder involvement, a brief literature review was done to learn more about water safety planning, for small and large water supply systems. Literature was found on integrated risk assessment and risk management, as well as the current use of WSP in Europe. Different reports from the WHO and IWA were examined and academic literature was consulted. The literature review can be found in »Water safety planning.

2. Involvement of FAIRWAY case studies

An integral and essential aspect of the FAIRWAY Project is the element of case studies. Thirteen case studies, in eleven countries, are part of FAIRWAY (see Figure 1). These case studies generate practical experiences, which are analysed within the work packages to identify the barriers and success factors associated with achieving water quality targets. In each case study a so-called Multi-Actor Platform (MAP) has been set up to facilitate effective cooperation between actors of different sectors and levels, including farmers, advisors, drinking water companies, scientists and policy makers. Each case is led by a so-called case study leader (CSL) and/or MAP leader who is linked to one of the FAIRWAY project partners.

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Figure 1

To derive information and lessons learned on Water Safety Planning from the case studies, questionnaires have been sent out to case study leaders (CSLs) in two rounds. While answering questionnaires, CSL were free to involve other stakeholders from the MAP. In the first questionnaire CSL were asked whether a Water Safety Plan (or equivalent) is in place within their case study location. In total nine out of thirteen CSL have indicated to have a WSP in place. Four case studies indicated to not have a WSP in place in their case study area (see Table 1).

  • Island Tunø, DK: there is no specific requirement for setting up a WSP since the case is supplying less than 750.000 m³ /year.
  • La Voulzie, FR: no specific WSP exists, but it is part of an existing Water Sanitary Safety Management Plan.
  • North Greece, GR: no WSP exists.
  • Dravsko Polje, SI: there is no legal basis yet for WSP. However, it was indicated that water companies have to establish internal control on the basis of HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) system. Introduction of WSP is foreseen by amendment of legislation on drinking water.

Table 1 Result first questionnaire on having a WSP

Case study Water safety plan in place? Comments
Island Tunø, DK No No specific requirement for setting up WSP. Public water supply systems supplying more than 750.000 m3 /year must introduce ISO22000, or a system based on HACCP (or equivalent).
Aalborg, DK Yes  
Anglian Region, UK Yes  
La Voulzie, FR No No WSP, but part of Water Sanitary Safety Management Plan.
Lower Saxony, DE Yes  
North Greece, GR No  
Derg catchment, UK Yes  
Overijssel, NL Yes  
Noord-Brabant, NL Yes  
Vansjø, NO Yes  
Baixo Mondego, PT Yes  
Arges-Vedea, RO Yes  
Dravsko Polje, SI No No legal basis yet for WSP in Slovenia. Water companies have to establish internal control on the basis of HACCP system. Introduction of WSP is foreseen by amendment of legislation on drinking water.

In the second round, questions were asked to distill more details on the Water Safety Plan approach: on the register of water supplies, risk assessment and management, communication and awareness, and roles and responsibilities. The questionnaire is included in »Annex 4. The following countries have shared more in-depth information on Water Safety Planning either by answering the questionnaire or by sharing literature / reports on local WSP:

  • Island Tunø, DK
  • Aalborg, DK
  • Anglian Region, UK
  • Lower Saxony, DE
  • North Greece, GR
  • Overijssel, NL
  • Noord-Brabant, NL
  • Vansjø, NO
  • Baixo Mondego, PT
  • Arges-Vedea, RO
  • Dravsko Polje, SI

Some case studies could not provide more in-depth information for various reasons:

  • Derg catchment, UK: No further information about the WSP could be provided. The reasons for this is that the local WSP is an internal document that was developed by Northern Ireland-Water staff without involvement of external organisations or stakeholders.
  • La Voulzie, FR: The case study leader of the French case study does not work for the organization that is responsible for the Water Sanitary Safety Management Plan. Therefore no further information could be provided.

The provided information from the case studies on their Water Safety Plan approach has been analysed. This has resulted in lessons learned and recommendations for water safety planning for both large and small supplies (»Lessons learned and recommendations).

3. Learning module

A learning module was developed to guide the reader through the process of assessing vulnerability, hazards and risks, and identifying mitigation measures. These specific steps of the WSP approach relate to the availability, use and interpretation of data.

The learning module was used with the Greek case study leader on January 13, 2020, since no WSP is in place for this case study (»Annex 3). It was a valuable exercise since it showed the challenges that are faced in Greece, and displayed that the WSP can be an instrument for the management of the water supply in the broadest sense. The WSP, for example, helps in the deliberation and substantiation of the decision to either take measures at the source, to dilute or purify the water, or to leave the abstraction site. Furthermore Water Safety Planning has the potential to promote continuation and long-term vision, and the WSP approach can aid in building trust among the public, stakeholders and government agencies that the water supplied is safe.


Notes: For full references to papers quoted in this article see »References

Download Annex 3 containing the learning module and North Greece case study evaluation

Download Annex 4 containing the case study questionnaire


Main authors: Cors van den Brink, Sarah Zernitz, Alma de Vries
Editor: Jane Brandt
Source document: »van den Brink, C. et al. (2021) Lessons Learned and Recommendations for Water Safety Plans. FAIRWAY Project Deliverable 2.4, 97 pp


Contents table
1. Introduction
2. Information on Water Safety Planning in the case studies
3. Recommendations for large supplies
4. Recommendations for small supplies


Based on more in-depth analysis of experiences with Water Safety Planning in the case studies, an analysis is carried out on lessons learned and recommendations for Water Safety Planning. Here we offer recommendations to responsible authorities on Water Safety Planning for both large and small supplies. However, the case studies only include large supplies. Therefore, mainly information on large supplies is gathered. However, from field visits within case study countries, it is seen that (very) small supplies do exist. Therefore, some of the case studies have provided information on how is dealt with small supplies. This information is used to formulate some recommendations for Water Safety Planning for (very) small supplies. We start with an overview of information gathered on Water Safety Planning in the case studies then go on to provide recommendations for large and small supplies.

2. Information on Water Safety Planning in the case studies

The following tables give an overview of the information gathered on Water Safety Planning in the case studies, specifically within three themes:

  • How is Water Safety Planning (RA/RM) organised in the case study country (regulations and responsibilities)? And are there differences in how this is organized for (very) small and large supplies?
  • How is the risk assessment and risk management executed? Are there differences in how RA/RM is carried out for (very) small and large supplies?
  • How are stakeholders involved in Water Safety Planning (RA/RM)? (How) does this contribute to increased protection or support for measures? Are there differences between (very) small and large supplies?

2.1 Organization of Water Safety Planning / RA/RM in the case studies

Table 2: How is Water Safety Planning (RA/RM) organised in the case study country (regulations and responsibilities)?
And are there differences in how this is organized for (very) small and large supplies?

Case study National regulation Responsibilities
Island Tunø, DK
Aalborg, DK

The Order on Quality Assurance of Public Water Supply systems is the Danish implementation of WSP and the Drinking Water Directive.

In this order (section 4.) it is stated that public water-supply systems supplying more than 750,000 m3 of water per year must meet the requirements of § 3 by introducing ISO22000, or systems based on HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points) or equivalent systems. This ISO standard does not apply to small supplies. Different method of quality assurance must be introduced by smaller supplies. In Denmark there are around 50.000 private wells. For private wells there is a low degree of regulations and no demands on monitoring the quality.

Keep and maintain register of water supplies: municipalities, state and water works.

RA/RM and WSP: water works and the municipalities.

Anglian Region, UK

RA/RM is covered in regulation 27 and 28 of the Water Quality regulations set by Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the UK.

Regulation covers all sizes of public water supply.

Private Boreholes are covered by Private Borehole Regulations, which are enforced by Local Council, which submit a risk assessment as defined by the Private Water Supply Regulations.

Asset register for boreholes: Water company.

Register for abstraction licencing purposes: Environment Agency.

RA/RM: Water company (main actors: Water Quality Risk Team and Water Resources and Catchment Team).

Check and audit RA: Drinking Water Inspectorate.

Lower Saxony, DE RA/RM is covered in Drinking Water Act.  
Overijssel, NL
Noord-Brabant, NL

It is worked out in the procedure to set-up Drinking Water Protection Files and embedded in the WFD-activities & procedures.

The obligation for RA/RM only applies to large drinking water abstractions. Small / Industrial abstractions have either no obligation to report regularly or report to the industrial food safety authority.

Province (regional government) is responsible for RA/RM.
Vansjø, NO

The drinking water regulation "Forskrift om vannforsyning og drikkevann" of 2017 implements the Drinking Water Directive (98/83/EF) and is intended to follow the main principles of water safety plans.

The regulation applies to all drinking water supplies, but there are less detailed requirements for very small water supply systems (<10 m³).

Register of drinking water supplies: Norwegian Food Safety Authority (NFSA).

Water suppliers provide info through online-form to NFSA.

Data transferred to Waterworks Register (Norwegian Institue of Public Health).

RA/RM: water supply company.

Baixo Mondego, PT In Portugal, there is no legislation that defines the obligation to develop a WSP. Although, Law-Decrete 152/2017 (water for human consumption) refers the mandatory risk assessment in the water supply management systems. Register and RA/RM: Drinking water authority: Águas do Centro Litoral.
Arges-Vedea, RO

Law no. 458/2002 with its subsequent modifications done by Ordinance no. 22/2017 transposes the European Directive no. 83/1998 related to the quality of water for human consumption with is subsequent modifications done by the European Directive no. 1787/2015.

These are mandatory for large size water supplies and is considered as good practice for small and very small water supplies.

Register: country offices for public health.

RA/RM: water suppliers and country offices for public health through their laboratories for water quality analyses.

In case of household supply (private wells) the risk assessment is the responsibility of the owner. If there are supplies (public wells) which serve a small community, the risk assessment is the responsibility of the County office for public health together with the mayor of the village.

Dravsko Polje, SI RA/RM is embedded in national regulations, in the Decree on drinking water supply and Rules on drinking water obligational to all public suppliers.

Register: Slovenian Environmental Agency.

RA/RM: public water supply company (owned by local municipality).  

In all case study countries RA/RM is embedded in national regulations. There are differences between case studies whether the same regulations apply to large and small supplies. Furthermore, the responsible authority/authorities vary between the case studies. Although, in most case studies the water supply company is responsible for RA/RM. This is often combined with a specific role for the local/regional/national government. In the Netherlands, the provincie carries primary responsibility for RA/RM of the water supplies as they are the responsible authority to protect groundwater used for drinking water purposes. Lastly, it can be seen that within the water supply company or authority different departments and teams are involved in RA/RM. This requires coordination between different departments/teams within the organizations.

2.2 Risk assessment and risk management

Table 3: How is the risk assessment and risk management executed? Are there differences in how RA/RM is carried out for (very) small and large supplies?

Case study How is RA/RM executed?
Island Tunø, DK
Aalborg, DK

Waterworks is certified after four standards:

  • ISO 14001 (environmental management).
  • OHSAS 18001 (safety management).
  • ISO 22000 (Food Safety).
  • Quality and Management system in the electricity field.

A water safety plan for a large supply in Denmark is a combination of these certifications, environmental status reports, action plans and groundwater protection plans.

For large supplies the ISO22000 standards apply, which do not apply to smaller ones (17.000-750.000 m3 per year). Smaller water supplies must introduce quality assurance by: 1) mapping water supply and quality thereof; 2) mapping water supply’s operating procedures; 3) assess the risk of contamination of the water from the overall production system; 4) draw up an action plan; 5) continuously monitor and document that the supply has implemented the planned measures. In Denmark there are around 50.000 private wells. For private wells there no demands on monitoring the quality.

Anglian Region, UK

Every water company has the ability to risk assess following the template of Regulation 28 of the Water Supply (Water Quality) Regulations.

All sources - large and small are treated the same in terms of risk assessment process. One size fits all. Training wise- modules that internal Anglian Water staff do in relation to Reg 28.

Vulnerability of aquifer to pollution is assessed, and hazards are identified. Methods used: GIS datasets, catchment walkovers, history of sample results, investigations, modelling.

Risks are identified in different stages of the water supply system: catchment risks, treatment risks, supply risks, customer risks – all link in together. Risks are scored in low, medium and high risks. Based on Source-Pathway-Receptor model a database is used, which draws from a number of different AW internal datasets and the outputs from onsite assessments/audits. It calculates the risk for specific hazard groups, based on a number of pre-defined components. Likelihood is incorporated into the scoring mechanism. Risk scores are validated on an annual basis using actual sample data and risk scores adjusted accordingly.

Lower Saxony, DE Methodological guidance of DIN ENG 15975-2. This is equal to WHO WSP format.
Overijssel, NL
Noord-Brabant, NL

RA/RM is executed by the Drinking Water Protection File. In a national platform the table of content is agreed on and the province is in charge of the process to set-up these DWPF.

The DWPF describes the status of a drinking water abstraction, assesses the vulnerability, assesses risks (both physical and from lacking protection policy) and formulates measures to overcome these risks / meet the WFD of simple purification effort. The Province chaires the project team which sets up the DWPF and is in charge of involving all relevant stakeholders. Stakeholders are asked to provide info about potential risks, check that info and are also consulted about possible measures in which they are involved.

For small supplies: in certain instances a quick-scan of the risks is carried out.

Vansjø, NO

Guidance document on RA/RM is available.

The methodology for risk mapping is optional. There is however a guiding document on increased security and response in the water supply ("Økt sikkerhet og beredskap i vannforsyningen") which provides a suggested framework in line with the Norwegian standard NS-EN 15975-2 (Security of drinking water supply - Guidelines for risk and crisis management - Part 2: Risk management).

If the water supply chooses a risk-based approach to provide fewer samples than the minimum requirement, NS-EN 15975-2 or an equivalent method has to be applied.

The emergency response plan is required to comply with the regulation on emergency response planning ("Forskrift om krav til beredskapsplanlegging og beredskapsarbeid, mv.") which applies the methodology for risk and vulnerability assessments (ROS-analyse).

The Water Safety Plan for Vansjø/MOVAR consists of two parts. Part A identifies the risks: it describes the water supply system, identifies the vulnerable users, identifies risks, and lists incidents. Part B assesses the risks on the basis of criteria on probability and consequences. Furthermore it assesses the measures.

For small supplies: Online guidance is provided on drinking water from wells.

Baixo Mondego, PT

A technical guide is provided describing the methodology: Risk assessment in the water supply management systems, from abstraction to distribution (ERSAR Technical Guide nº 7). Electronic platform tool – NADIA.

The WHO WSP steps are followed: team, description of the system, control measures, evaluation matrices, improvement plan, management supporting procedures.

To identify hazards information on previous events is used. Risk assessment is carried out based on the probability of occurrence and assessment of consequences.

For small supplies without professional management: They are private and no assessment or control is performed.

Arges-Vedea, RO

National technical standards.

It is mandatory for large size water suppliers to accomplish WSP. In case of small and very small water suppliers is considered as good practice to accomplish WSP.

Dravsko Polje, SI In Slovenia a HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) system is in place for RA/RM and an Action Plan is developed.

Table 3 shows the information gathered on the execution of risk assessment and risk management. In many case study countries some form of agreed methodology for RA/RM / Water Safety Planning is in place. This is disseminated in different forms, such as a guidance document, template, content page, regulatory standards, or an electronic tool. In some case studies this specific method is optional and adaptations can be made. In other case studies, the responsible authority/organization is obligated to follow this specific method. The Vansjø, NO case study shared that standardized methods, and an agreed upon methodology, enable better and more effective communication between drinking water suppliers. In some of the case studies the WHO WSP elements or steps are followed. In others, other systems for RA/RM are used, such as systems based on HACCP principles or ISO standards. The WHO WSP approach is a comprehensive risk assessment and risk management approach, that covers all steps in the water supply. It can be seen that in some case studies multiple RA/RM approaches are used for the different steps in the water supply. The combination of the outcomes of all RA/RM approaches gives an overview of the hazards from source to tap. This could also mean that the outcomes of RA/RM end up in different documents. In some case study countries, for example Denmark and the Netherlands, different methods for RA/RM are in place for large and small supplies. These distinct methods reflect both the different challenges that small supplies face in water safety planning and the fact that for small water supplies usually less information is available, such as the recharge area and travel times of the abstracted water.

2.3 Involvement of stakeholders

Table 4: How are stakeholders involved in Water Safety Planning (RA/RM)? (How) does this contribute to increased protection or support for measures?
Are there differences between (very) small and large supplies?  

Case study Stakeholder involvement
Island Tunø, DK
Aalborg, DK
Municipalities and water works.
Anglian Region, UK There are many stakeholders who interact with the supply of water from source to tap who are consulted as part of the RA process, both internally and externally. Multiple stakeholders, such as farmers, emenity, horse owners, are also involved in terms of catchment management. Water Quality risk team and Water Resources and Catchment Team are the main actors involved.
Overijssel, NL
Noord-Brabant, NL
Province (authority), drinking water company, municipalities, water boards, agricultural lobby organization (main stakeholders). Depending on specific issues, other stakeholders may be involved: railway, industry, national water authority.
Vansjø, NO

In process of identifying vulnerable users, municipal doctor and regional branches of the NFSA can be involved.

Water company: owns the assessments, the emergency response plan and emergency response in itself.

Municipalities that own the drinking water company: client and affected.

Other water works: support/cooperation.

The National Food Safety Authority: authority and guide.

Baixo Mondego, PT

Different departments within water company: administration areas, company’s entrepreneurial sustainability, laboratory, water supply, communication, maintenance and engineering.

Both customers and authorities (health authorities; Portuguese Environment Agency) gave their opinion.

Arges-Vedea, RO Water suppliers: accomplishing the RA/RM and WSP; county offices for public health: supervising the RA/RM and WSP; operators from foodstuff activity area, local medical stuff, end users: inform of any possible hazard event.
Dravsko Polje, SI

Drinking Water Supply Company. Municipalities. Ministry for environment. Ministry of Health checks water quality at users’ homes.

Table 4 shows the information gathered on the involvement of stakeholders in risk assessment and management. In most case studies the involvement of stakeholders is limited to the different teams within the water supply company and government. RA/RM is often carried out by experts, based on expert knowledge, using data and modelling. In the case studies in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands stakeholders are actively involved in water safety planning. In the UK stakeholders who interact with the water system from source to tap are consulted as part of the RA/RM process. Furthermore, stakeholders are involved through the catchment management system. In the Netherlands it is explicitly mentioned that stakeholders are involved in a process, coordinated by the regional government (Province), to develop drinking water protection files (DWPF) and consequently a program of measures. Stakeholders such as the Water Boards, Agricultural organizations and municipalities (and for specific issues: railway, industry, national water authority) are involved in identifying the vulnerability of the system, assessing the hazards and the risks. The Dutch case study shares that through this process consensus is created about the risks. Consequently, this paves the way for agreeing on measures as well. Even so, the Portuguese case study has shared that the interactions with the stakeholders should be deepened.

3. Recommendations for large supplies

Based on the analysis of Water Safety Planning in the case studies, three recommendations can be made for large supplies:

  • Water Safety Planning – a process with a process owner.
  • Agreement on methodology and content.
  • Involvement of stakeholders.

3.1 Water Safety Planning – a process with a process owner

Water Safety Planning is a process, rather than a product. It is a process in which several organizations or departments/teams are involved. Furthermore, in some cases it consists of several parallel processes. This poses some challenges:

  • Different teams could be involved. This complicates the spreading of knowledge on vulnerability, hazards and risks within the organization.
  • Information on -and outcomes of RA/RM of different elements of the water supply could end up in different places, rather than being collected together and combined in one output.
  • Parallel processes of RA/RM (different RA/RM processes for elements of the water supply system) could also mean that risks are estimated and prioritized differently.

This shows the importance of a process owner, who is responsible for -and coordinates this process of Water Safety Planning. This could be an authority (national, regional or local government), because then enforcement could be easier.

The process owner could also be the water supply company, since then the interests of the water supply and knowledge/expertise is bundled. The process owner can bring together departments and stakeholders, can spread information throughout organizations and aids in providing congruence between different RA/RM systems (if they do exist).

3.2 Agreement on methodology and content

Working towards more harmonization and generic arrangements for a RA/RM could improve current practices, developing a more uniform and transparent approach to RA/RM. The case studies show that the existence of an agreed upon methodology enhances the effectiveness of Water Safety Planning in several ways.

  • Firstly, a structured RA/RM approach contributes to a comprehensive overview of all risks – and enables a strategic planning of the Water Safety Planning (see f.i. paragraph 4.6).
  • Secondly, a generic approach enhances the communication and cooperation between water supply companies.
  • Thirdly, harmonization of the approach enables the evaluation of the RA/RM results at the scale of a water company, province or country, which can help to substantiate strategic decisions in protection policy.
  • Fourthly, the need for a harmonized approach is amplified in case of a large incident.

3.3 Involvement of stakeholders

In densely populated areas groundwater protection is increasingly competing with other interests and themes, such as agriculture, urban & industrial functions or the energy transition (geothermal energy). It can therefore no longer be considered as a stand-alone theme, but should be considered in a social context. Furthermore, groundwater protection is increasingly seen as a complex environmental problem (Simpson & De Loë, 2020), rather than a relatively simple and predictable problem. The Dutch case shared that the interest of groundwater protection compared to other interests is usually low. In addition, the timescale of groundwater protection compared to the political or social timescale is long, which enhances the competition with other interests.

It is therefore important to engage stakeholders in the risk assessment and risk management of a water supply. In the Netherlands stakeholders are involved in this process, coordinated by the regional government (Province), to develop drinking water protection files (DWPF) and consequently a program of measures. Stakeholders such as the Water Boards, Agricultural organizations and municipalities are involved in identifying the vulnerability of the system, assessing the hazards and the risks. Through this process consensus is created about the risks. Consequently, this paves the way for agreeing on measures as well. The Portuguese case shares that the interactions with the stakeholders should be deepened. In the UK stakeholders are consulted as part of RA/RM and involved in terms of catchment management.

Stakeholder involvement was also mentioned by the Greek case while evaluating the learning module: ‘the module educates all kinds of stakeholders’. On the other hand it was added that ‘the implementation of a WSP, selection of measures, and final application is not always a matter of all stakeholders’. The Danish case study of Tunø also illustrates the need for stakeholder involvement. The drinking water abstraction of the small island Tunø suffered from a strong increase of nitrate concentrations in the groundwater by the public drinking water facility in the nineties of last century. As the nitrate concentrations exceeded the standards, urgent action was needed. Regional authorities (the former county) assisted by agricultural scientists analysed the site, recovered the source of the nitrate pollution and presented scenarios. The economic most feasible scenario consisted of a change of agricultural land-use (permanent grass rather than leek) facilitated by contracts which were favourable for the farmers. This scenario resulted in a quick reduction of the nitrate concentrations resulting in safe nitrate levels in the abstracted groundwater. Just a few years ago, the contracts finished and as part of the EU-FAIRWAY project the process was evaluated. Several key stakeholders have been interviewed and most of the farmers ignored that there had been a problem at all. They still believed that the press and authorities created the problem and that the only reason for accepting the solution were the favourable conditions of the contracts.

This example illustrates that a sound scientific solution not necessarily results in stakeholder engagement and solving a real-world problem. Key lesson learned is that engagement of stakeholders is essential during all phases of the project: the phase of the identification of the problem, assessment of the problem, scenarios to solve the problem and in the phase of implementing the solution.

4. Recommendations for small supplies

As mentioned before, the information received from the FAIRWAY case study leaders mainly applies to large supplies. However, based on field visits carried out within the EU-FAIRWAY project and some specific information provided by some case studies, it is known that small supplies are present in the participating countries. Therefore some recommendations are made for small supplies based on general information on water safety planning and experience and procedures participating countries apply for small supplies.

As discussed in »Water Safety Planning, small systems typically face challenges that set them distinctly apart from large supplies in the context of Water Safety Planning. One of those challenges relate to the limited availability of specialized knowledge and expertise, and access to information and technical support. The experience in the case study of Norway can aid in overcoming this challenge. In Norway an information brochure is specifically targeted at small suppliers. Furthermore, small suppliers are encouraged to have an agreement with larger suppliers to get access to necessary competence and knowledge. Small suppliers can be aided by developing networks for cooperation.

In some case studies a specific method is provided for small supplies. This is for example the case in Denmark and the Netherlands. Such a method specifically aimed at small supplies can help to overcome the challenges that are faced by small supplies in water safety planning, for example the lack of availability of specific data. »Annex 2 shows a quick-scan, an example of a WSP for a very small water supply in the Netherlands, and explains how RA/RM is executed for a small privately-owned supply in the Netherlands. This quick scan focusses on:

  • Assessment of vulnerability of the groundwater abstraction by assessing the characteristics of the subsoil and soil types.
  • Assessment of potential sources near the groundwater abstraction.

Based on this quick scan of the specific vulnerability and threat of the resource, a rough indication of the risks can be made.



For full references to papers quoted in this article see »References

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