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Water is increasingly at the centre of a wide-ranging debate due to the various problems. On one hand, climate change is exacerbating already critical conditions, extending the areas characterised by water scarcity or susceptible to the growing intensity of precipitation, thus raising questions of water availability and defence from hydro-geological risks. On the other, the world’s growing economy and a development model that is not sustainable are making water pollution (springs, rivers, lakes and seas) one of the great challenges that must be addressed in the near future. Finally, worth mentioning is also the growing awareness and the mobilization of public opinion concerning “the water crisis” and a determination for the right of access to water as “a common good” to be fully acknowledged. The management of water today is increasingly one of the leading questions for all countries, including “advanced economies” like Italy.


A study such as the one being presented here, the fruit of the collaboration between CRESME and H2O, attempts to analyse the water scenario in our country, seen from the perspective of the water networks, sewage and water treatment. It is an initial analysis that aims to address, in turn, the problems, priorities and, above all, forms of intervention and finance. The study addresses the emerging need for quality and the search for the difficult balance between service and costs.


As Andrea Cirelli writes, “Today water, just as it was in the past, is everyone’s problem. The growing awareness and the mobilization of public opinion concerning the “water crisis” is, however, changing and the determination for water to be recognised as a “common good” and the support for access to water as a human right are becoming fundamental principles. Water is a primary resource that is so closely connected to the environment, health and human life, that it is necessary to assert public control of it: public ownership of water is an irrevocable principle. It is not a commercial product, rather a patrimony that must be safeguarded and treated as such.

However, this does not mean that it must be free. On the contrary, the cost and the price of the service must be connected and interdependent; prices that reflect their costs provide everyone (users, administrators and managers) with an indication of the value (and the added value) of the service. A “fair price” for water is an important incentive to encourage sustainable use of water (an accurate policy when it comes to water rates, in fact, helps regulate consumption and above all provide a fair value to the water supplied). Water, even though it is a public good, must be managed according to industrial criteria and the identification of new levels of coordination (optimal river basin authorities, territorial authorities, for an integrated water service) in an effective system for planning and governing the resources, is becoming paramount.”


Water and its quality are a vital reference element in the economic-industrial policy of the country and its public services and deserve significant clarity concerning the conditions in which they are operating, also with respect to the challenges that Europe has established for various countries. This first “H2O Report on innovation and the market for waterworks, sewage and treatment systems in Italy 2018-2020” aims to present the available data on the water cycle from adduction, distribution, sewage and treatment, attempting to address the problems and potential of the sector, examining quantitative and qualitative aspects, providing a snapshot of the current situation and shining a spotlight on the good practices and technological innovations that are characterising a sector destined to grow in importance and social responsibility.


The task we have set is not a simple one, even though we have been helped by the available sources and by various existing analyses and experts that have guided us, who you will find cited in this work. We know that the challenge is as complex as the water process itself: to make water an accessible and usable good, collecting it and returning it to the natural environment in a compatible way requires investment and infrastructure, storage and treatment plants that have been modified over time, through extensions and increasingly complex systems that must be managed.


The water cycle begins with the collection from the source (underground aquifer, spring, natural or artificial lake, surface water course and in Italy on occasion from the sea), followed by treatment and then the distribution to the users (civil, industrial and agricultural), mainly through water pipe networks and it ends, or should end, following its use with the transfer to sewage systems and its subsequent purification, indispensable for protecting the environment from pollution. The combination of these passages and of all of the infrastructure and plants necessary to perform them are included in the definition “Integrated Water Service” in the Environmental Code, art.141 of D.lgs 152/2006: “the integrated water service consists of the combination of public services for collecting, managing and distributing water for civil use, for sewage and treatment of waste water, and must be managed according to principles of efficiency, effectiveness and economy in full respect of national and European laws. The present legislation is applicable also to industrial uses of water managed as part of the integrated water service”. The Integrated Water service (hereafter SII) is composed of the following services.


  • Waterworks
    o Collection: the water is collected from the environment in ways that vary according to the type of source.
    o Adduction (eventual water treatment): the collected water, if destined for human consumption, first undergoes specific treatments to ensure the requisite quality levels established by law and is then transported through large adduction pipes to the storage reservoirs located near inhabited areas.
    o Distribution: the water is transported to individual users through a network of pipes and plants.
  • Sewage: the wastewater is collected in a system of networks and plants that carry it to the purification plants.
  • Purification and return to the environment: the purification plants improve the characteristics of the wastewater through chemical, physical and biological processes enabling its return to the environment without altering natural ecosystems.


On all these aspects of the integrated water service, we tried to reflect, measuring the length of the networks, the efficiency of management performance and, as possible, analysing the debate endeavouring to understand exactly where we are. The complete report has been presented at the fair on Wednesday 17 October during the seminar "We Add Value to Water: the market, innovation, and the scenarios for water's future"