Regulation on minimum requirements for water reuse for agricultural irrigation. Polish technological company has been developing such solutions for years

Drought in Poland – IMWM: the worst situation in the history of measurements – for over 100 years. Hydrological forecasts are not optimistic. It is one of the worst situations in the history of hydrological measurements. 42 measurement stations out of 500 have reported water level below normal. Last year it was only 10 – informs Grzegorz Walijewski, IMWM’s spokesman.

Due to the difficult situation caused by the progressing climate changes and drought, the European Union has been undertaking various measures, in order to diminish the risk of scarcity of water for crops irrigation. European Parliament and Council have been proceeding the draft regulation, which will enable to reuse treated domestic wastewater for agricultural irrigation. The draft has been proceeded since 2018 and its aim is to provide harmonised minimal standards of the quality of recovered water in EU member countries, which will enable farmers to use the water recycled from wastewater. This year, the regulation should be adopted and come into force with a transitional period of three years.

A way to fight the effects of drought – recycling water from wastewater

The regulation aims to promote more efficient use of water and its reuse, in particular for agricultural purposes. Why? Agriculture is the main sector responsible for water consumption. Water is needed, among others, for cleaning the facilities, farming equipment and animals or watering crops. The regulation will allow the adaptation to the effects of ongoing climate changes and ensure a sufficient amount of water for crops irrigation, especially in severe heat, which may directly prevent the negative impact of drought – in particular weakening of crops, smaller harvest and food shortage.   

However, will it be possible to replace the water used for agricultural purposes with so-called recycled water? Some farmers remain skeptical, but experts have no doubts – such solutions will have to be implemented. Poland is on the penultimate place in Europe when it comes to the resources of renewable freshwater resources per capita. What is more, in one-third of municipalities there is a problem of surface water pollution. Such a serious situation will require major changes and responsible management of water resources, as well as a shift towards recycling water from wastewater in order to conserve natural drinking water resources.

About 1 billion m3 of wastewater water is recovered annually in the EU. As expected by EU authorities, the entry into force of the regulation may increase the recovery of water from wastewater by up to 6.6 billion m3 in 2025. Such solutions will translate directly into saving water from natural sources - water intake from natural sources for irrigation, according to assumptions, is expected to decrease by more than 5% by 2025.

Principles of circular economy

Maximising the use of recycled water is in line with the idea of circular economy, which aims at maintaining the value of the products, materials and resources as long, as possible, while at the same reducing waste to a minimum.  The idea of circular economy aims at increasing the competitiveness of EU and protecting companies against resource scarcity and price volatility, while creating jobs for people with different qualifications due to the implementation of many innovative and more efficient ways of production and consumption. However, its main goal is to save energy and avoid irresistible damage caused by the use of resources at a level exceeding Earth’s ability to renew them (in terms of climate, biological diversity as well as air, soil and water pollution.

Recycling water in Poland

Apart from actions taken in the scope of effective use of water, the reuse of treated wastewater in a safe and cost-effective way seems to be a valuable but highly underused way to save water resources in the EU. The several Member States have been successfully reusing treated wastewater for years, such innovative solutions are also successfully implemented in Poland – the most prominent examples being the wastewater treatment plant for the Kasina Ski Station or the luxury Hotel Bania **** Thermal & Ski in Bialka Tatrzanska (in the Tatra Mountains) – both designed and constructed by Schwander Polska – the company specialising in the Membrane Bioreactor Technology.

What is more, all of Schwander Polska wastewater treatment plants reuse filtrate as process water for the operation of the wastewater treatment equipment – wastewater treated by MBR is completely free from suspended solids, which means that they can be safely used for the operation of plant equipment.   

Schwander Polska is the leader of the innovative wastewater treatment technology in Poland with vast experience – with over 50 designed and constructed MBR wastewater treatment plants. The company has been promoting recovering water from treated wastewater for a very long time – over the course of years and cooperation both with partner companies and universities, the company has managed to develop technology that helps to achieve the exquisite quality of treated wastewater, enabling safe and trouble-free reuse.

Wastewater treatment plant with solar sludge dryer in Kunow, Poland – General Contractor: Schwander Polska
As emphasised by Stanislaw Malinowski, the President of the Board of Schwander Polska, the Regulation of the EU Council and European Parliament on the parameters of treated wastewater enabling their agricultural reuse may be a long-awaited breakthrough in the scope of recovering water from treated wastewater:

„Our company has been developing such solutions for years, but the legal regulations have blocked the idea. In Poland, the notion of “treated wastewater” in legal terms does not differentiate between conventionally treated wastewater, which is unsuitable for reuse and so-called filtrate after membrane microfiltration or ultrafiltration, which meets stringent safety and quality standards and is fit for further reuse. These two concepts should be finally distinguished and regulated by the law. What is also challenging is the lack of national system support for ground-breaking and innovative technologies of treated wastewater. As a company that focuses on innovations, we aim at increasing awareness about new and emerging technologies among local government authorities. Happily, more and more mayors are open to new, ecological technologies of wastewater treatment.”

Presentation of filtrate quality during the visit of Serbian delegation at MBR WWTP in Kunow, Poland

The wastewater after membrane filtration (so-called filtrate) and disinfection with a UV lamp fulfils all of the safety requirements in terms of human health. Water recovered from treated wastewater may be used for watering, irrigation in agriculture, cleaning of streets and squares, car washes or as process water for equipment and industrial cleaning, which will enable to save precious natural resources of drinking water. Currently, we have submitted an application for a legal permit to discharge filtrate (i.e. treated wastewater after membrane filtration) into the soil. We also intend to start extensive scientific research on wastewater reuse (water recovery) in cooperation with the Cracow University of Technology.” – says President of the Board of Schwander Polska.

MBR wastewater treatment plants designed and constructed by Schwander Polska have gained recognition world-wide – the installations were visited by the water and wastewater specialists and local authorities representatives from Serbia, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Russia. After lifting lockdown measures connected to Covid-19, the plants will be visited by specialists from Egypt and India.

Schwander Polska proprietary solutions enabling recovery of water from treated wastewater:
  • Separation of most of the pathogenic bacteria, viruses, pharmaceuticals, antibiotics, solids at microfiltration membranes (MF) – maximisation of effect due to the effective microbiological processes, being the result of the cooperation of Schwander Polska and Cracow University of Technology. Filtrate treated in this way fulfils very stringent quality requirements for treated wastewater.
  • Additional UV disinfection – elimination to up to 99% of the remaining bacteria and viruses, due to which the treated wastewater meets all of the standards enabling its reuse and safe contact with humans.
Examples of wastewater treatment plants enabling filtrate reuse

MBR Wastewater Treatment Plant for Bania Hotel Thermal & Ski in Bialka Tatrzanska (in the Tatra Mountains)

The wastewater treatment plant for luxurious Bania Hotel**** Thermal & Ski, located at the foot of the biggest ski centre in Poland. In winter, the guests may enjoy the ski slope, located next to the hotel. The hotel offers accommodation in 262 rooms.

Bania Hotel Thermal & Spa in Bialka Tatrzanska (in the Tatra Mountains)
The integral part of the complex are thermal baths named Terma Bania – the hotel has 14 external and internal pools, of a total area of 2400 m2. Recreational pools are filled with thermal water of temperature around 34 - 38°C. The water is taken from the depth of 2500 meters and its initial temperature is 72°C. It is distributed to the pools after giving away some of its heat energy, while preserving its natural microelements. The guests may also relax at 7 treatment rooms in the SPA area.

Ecological solutions

The idea of the construction of the thermal complex was born in 2006 and from the very beginning, it assumed integration of the newly built structure into the natural landscape. The investors were focused on the unique combination of the modern design with the elements of Polish Highlanders' folklore while choosing ecological solutions. The materials used during construction were natural: stone, wood – predominant in the Podhale region.
This idea also guided the owner of the complex while choosing wastewater treatment technology – it was decided to choose the most environmentally friendly option – ultramodern proprietary technology of Schwander Polska based on membrane microfiltration (MBR), enabling treated wastewater reuse. The excellent quality of the treated effluent enables the customer its reuse after additional UV disinfection, which due to the specifics of business activity will result in huge savings. The filtrate will be used as process water for the technological equipment of Terma Bania and artificial snowmaking in winter and watering of green areas in the summer season.
Aesthetically pleasing architecture, footprint reduction and comfort of hotel guests
The wastewater treatment plant is located among the hotel buildings. The architecture of the facility harmoniously blends with surrounding structures. It was possible because the plant is equipped with deodorisation system, thanks to which the wastewater treatment plant is not cumbersome for the guests staying at the hotel, despite being located in the centre of the hotel.

Bania Hotel Thermal & Spa in Bialka Tatrzanska (in the Tatra Mountains)
At the stage of design, Schwander Polska decided to use the unused buildings and thanks to this solution, not only the capital costs were lowered, but also the footprint of the plant was significantly reduced, which  was of utmost importance for the customer because of a limited area of a land plot. The additional reduction of the footprint was achieved due to the system of storeys.

MBR wastewater treatment plant constructed by Schwander Polska for Bania Hotel – facade visualisation

Wastewater treatment plant for Kasina Ski Station & Bike Park with the possibility of reuse of water recovered from treated wastewater

The ski station is located in the north-west slope of Snieznica, in Beskid Wypsowy Mountains, in the town of Kasina Wielka, near Cracow. It offers accommodation facilities. In addition, the Bike Park offers 9 cycling routes, which makes Bike Park the biggest facility of this type in Poland.

The plant was built in a very difficult area because due to its location, there was no possibility of discharging wastewater to a recipient. The solution proposed by Schwander Polska included membrane technology with treated water reuse after UV disinfection - for making artificial snow in winter, and watering the ski slopes in summer.

The plant, integrated into the ski slope harmoniously blends with surrounding nature and due to the well-thought architectural solutions is almost invisible for the tourists.

MBR wastewater treatment plant integrated into the ski slope treating wastewater from Kasina Ski Guesthouse
Advantages of recovering water from treated wastewater

1. Limiting the use of solid fertilizers and negative impact on the environment
In terms of environment, the use of water recovered from treated wastewater is a better alternative than using groundwater, water from rivers or desalination.
What is more, it also helps to recycle nutrients – recycled water is the source of nutrients, which may replace solid fertilizers in agriculture and help to reduce its use.

2. Protection of drinking water resources  
Using of recycled water may limit the need for water from natural sources, which is currently being wasted for purposes such as irrigation of crops, cleaning of streets and squares, irrigation of golf courses, washing cars. In this way the precious resources of drinking water could be saved for consumption, whereas in the sectors where it is possible, drinking water would be replaced by recycled water. It is especially important for the regions suffering from water scarcity and droughts.

3. Economic incentive
The need for effective technologies of wastewater treatment as well as water recovery will provide an incentive for scientists to conduct research and scientific tests. It will be also the chance to use the potential of wastewater and to generate huge financial savings. The development and implementation of innovative technologies will be also an incentive for various sectors of the economy and will result in increased employment.

4. No need to transport water
The wastewater may be recovered and reused, which is currently considered to be a smart business strategy, effective from the point of view of enterprise profitability and efficiency. The transport of water is expensive, hence using water recycled from wastewater onsite for industrial purposes contributes to huge financial savings related to the transport of water. As it is commonly known, most of the industries use huge amounts of water – the reuse of treated wastewater will increase its availability onsite for a large scale.

5. Sustainable resource management
In simplification, sustainable resource management means focusing on a more efficient way of using natural resources and their protection in order to secure access to them for future generations.
What do MBRs have in common with a sustainable economy? A lot. First of all, it is a sustainable, environmentally friendly technology that protects water resources and improves the quality of river waters. In addition, it enables the reuse of water recovered from wastewater, thus saving water from natural sources.

Step into the future – wastewater treatment plants

Unreasonable resource management has led to a situation where the current generation has to seriously revise its current policy of managing the available raw materials to ensure their availability for future generations. Schwander Polska has been focusing on innovation since the very beginning of its business activity, which over the years enabled to perfect the technologies of water recovery from wastewater. However, to make them applicable on a wider scale, it is necessary to introduce a legal framework regulating the parameters of treated wastewater. The EU regulation can be a milestone in the field of protection of natural drinking water resources and the promotion of reuse of treated wastewater.

Further ways of growth, which have been constantly developed by research and technical centres will take into account other improvements, such as: conversion of sewage sludge (waste) into a product, recovery of raw materials and production of energy from sludge, recovery of raw materials from wastewater and further advancements in the scope of increasing self-sufficiency in the aspect of electricity and heat.

  1. Stanowisko Rady w pierwszym czytaniu z myślą o przyjęciu rozporządzenia Parlamentu Europejskiego i Rady w sprawie minimalnych wymogów dotyczących ponownego wykorzystania wody – Projekt uzasadnienia Rady nr 15301/1/19 z dnia 12 marca 2020 r.


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