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


One of FAIRWAY's research topics is Water Safety Planning for adequate drinking water protection for small and large supplies. Our aim is to stimulate the improvement of drinking water safety across the European Union by sharing context, best practices and lessons learned on Water Safety Planning for both small and large water supplies (see »Lessons learned and recommendations for Water Safety Plans).

Data and information was collected from the North Greece case study and used as described here.

Contents table
1. Survey of case studies
2. Key lessons learned

1. Survey of case studies

All 13 FAIRWAY case studies were surveyed to see whether or not a Water Safety Plan (WSP), or equivalent, is in place within their area (see »Approach and methodology). Unlike all the other case studies, there was no WSP (or something equivalent) already in place in North Greece.

As part of the Water Safety Planning research topic, a WSP Learning Module (see »Annex 3) was developed to guide the reader through the process of assessing vulnerability, hazards and risks, and identifying mitigation measures. Consequently the Learning Module was used with the North Greece case study leader on January 13, 2020. It was a valuable exercise since it showed the challenges that are faced in Greece, and that the WSP can be an instrument for the management of the water supply in the broadest sense. For example the WSP 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.

Following this exercise, the North Greece case study leader, with involvement of relevant actors within the case study, evaluated this exercise and the Learning Module, and gave the following review. The lessons learned during this evaluation of the Learning Module have since been integrated into it. 

"A Learning Module on the main aspects of a WSP, incorporating a description of its goals, main characteristics and basic steps towards its design, is necessary and useful, especially for stakeholders (water authorities, consumers, farmers, academia and citizen groups) of agricultural areas. These areas in Greece, tend to exhibit the lowest population density, along with the most frequent and critical water hazards, while they also tend to reflect a society of greater citizen participation and local environmental awareness, as opposed to urban areas.

Based on the experience from our case study area and the special issues and problems faced by the local reality, we will try to comment on the Learning Module in a constructive way. The contents of the Learning Module and the line of thought are concise and easy to understand, while the main objectives and basic parts of a WSP necessary for its implementation are clear.

A first comment is on the selection of the current size of the water supply. This seems to be a subjective matter, which is left to the decision of the trainee/student and the water authority/area they serve. Most of the times the size of the water supply is signified by the water flow or by the number of people served in the area. Also it could be related to the entire area of the catchment. This could be a subjective issue, left to the decision of the trainee, since the Learning Module describes water supply systems of both sizes, big and small.

Another comment is that the module is created in a way that it is useful for all target groups related to the possible stakeholders. It could serve as an operating procedure for a water authority manager or for a member of the local water works facility, even for a citizen association. The terms are clear and easy to understand and it leaves the freedom to build on each of its main characteristics. The terms are not fairly technical so it could also serve as a dissemination tool for a water facility.

One of the thoughts coming to mind is that, although the module educates all kinds of stakeholders, implementation of a WSP, selection of measures, and final application is not always a matter of all stakeholders. In our case implementation is done by the regional water management authority and the ministry of environment. Therefore, only a small part of the WSP and its creation is actually related to all stakeholders.

A possible advantage of creating a WSP in our case study could be that, there is a general lack of trust from people and consumers to the state which provides the water. People are always anxious about the quality of their water and about the actions of the management authority towards maintaining its quality. Therefore, even at times of great financial insecurity, people have been pushing towards monitoring of the quality and finally getting water of good quality. Citizen participation in our case is vital an important since people voluntarily are a part of the process, including sometimes financing the water quality monitoring.

Another reality is that most of the times there is a quality problem, authorities tend to find another viable clean source or dilute the water with clean water. This is a fast solution, as long as there are clean water sources available nearby. The option of treating water and processing pollutants is far behind in the priorities. Therefore, in the part of control measures and water treatment, it could be a good idea to incorporate options including a) ways to find viable new sources, b) accepted maximum dilution ratios, c) a way to continue monitoring the old source and either provide a treatment solution in middle term or to provide financing options and links to funding sources for the regional authorities to pursue. This way we address the problem of “continuation” of actions in Greece, which is the major problem of implementation. We tend to easily forget long-term problems when an easy and cheap solution emerges. In long-term this costs more in the state budget. Also this is not sustainable since we are going to run out of clean water sources. An operating procedure for abandoned sources of water and their possible way to treat are an important part of a WSP. Also in the risk assessment of vulnerabilities, we could provide three levels of urgency, all related to the level of pollutants in the source. Immediate for those surpassing the MAC of the legislation, middle term for those that are in levels that bring unrest and need to be addressed soon (treatment, or change of source) and long-term (old sources with pollutants and their possible clean-up with treatment options that need time and funding).

From the point of view of a student of the Learning Module (e.g. water consumer and participant in the local board and farmer ) I would say that the module regarding the small water systems is clear and easy to understand. I would certainly use most of its parts, except for the technical ones regarding the description of the geology and hydrology of the area, or the exact amount and age of abstraction facilities. Also I could not be able to prioritize the risks in order of urgency, without the education necessary for that. Other than that, it could be useful for me to understand all the problems faced by my regional water catchment area and it would help me to adjust my farming techniques and overall awareness, since I would be now part of the WSP and the holistic scheme of the water that I drink.

From the point of view of the regional water officer, this Learning Module is extremely useful and easy to understand. The only problems would be that in Greece most of the water facilities have already assigned outside consulting agencies to form WSPs and I am not sure of the real participation of water management employees in the WSP creating process. Nevertheless, this could be an opportunity for them to understand the whole WSP idea and to provide better information to the agencies. Another problem could be that WSPs are not following a certain template although implementation and legislation follows a very strict procedure. So again the assignment of certain quantification to risks in each case is subjective and it could lead to problems in implementation between different areas. It could be nice to have a standard operating procedure to assign quantifiable risks to all areas in Greece."

2. Key lessons learned

Key lessons learned from North Greece and all case studies are that

  1. Engagement of stakeholders is essential during all phases of RA/RM / Water Safety Planning.
  2. The designation of a process owner helps in bringing together departments and stakeholders, spreading information throughout organizations and providing congruence between different RA/RM systems.
  3. An agreed upon methodology and content enhances the effectiveness of Water Safety Planning and cooperation and communication between those involved.

Note: Download Annex 3 containing the Learning Module


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