In Europe 3.500.000 km’s of water distribution networks exist (EUREAU, 2009). Water utilities face a number of challenges related to these distribution networks. In the next 10 – 30 years large parts of water distribution networks have to be rehabilitated. Based on their own experiences (Thames Water: € 1 billion/year; The Netherlands: € 270 mln/year), extrapolating these to Europe and taking into account the state and performance of distribution networks, Vitens and Thames Water estimate that € 20 billion/year are needed in Europe to upgrade the distribution networks. Prioritization and optimization of these investments is needed urgently.

Furthermore, in many countries water quality needs improvement. Frequently, the European directive on drinking water is not met with respect to microbiological and chemical parameters, thus posing a threat to human health.

Finally, resources for water production and water distribution need to be used more efficiently. Mostly water distribution networks and assets are not managed actively on a real time basis. Production, pressure management, water quality and leakage events are dealt with in a reactive way based on laboratory analysis, complaints from customers and signals of health authorities. Continuous optimization does not take place and hence, vast resources are spilt on:
water leakage (water losses ranging from 5 – 50 % of total water produced; source EU);
sub-optimal asset management and water production;
sub-optimal pressure management (savings potential 10 – 15 % of energy usage for distribution; further savings: reduced number of leakages as high pressure and transients are a cause of leakages).
The European Innovation Partnership on Water (EIP Water) has recognized these challenges and established the following priorities of work related to the challenges in water supply distribution networks:

Thematic priorities:
– Water and wastewater treatment including recovery of resources;
– Water energy nexus;

Cross cutting priorities:
– Decision support systems and monitoring;
– Smart technologies.

SmartWater4Europe contributes to the EIP Water by speeding up innovations in the priorities of work that contribute to solving societal challenges, enhance Europe’s competitiveness and contribute to job creation and economic growth. Furthermore, the supply and demand should be brought together to accelerate acceptance of innovations and speed up market introduction.