Building a water-smart economy and society

There is a growing demand for water from various economic activities and increasing stress on natural water sources. To secure water for our society, there is therefore a need to make available alternative water resources of various qualities and which are appropriate for different functions and multiple users, and to better exploit water resources and all the valuable substances that could be obtained through the wastewater treatment and reuse process. However, innovations in this domain remain fragmented and/or only experimented at small scales; testing and deployment in operational environments and at scales suitable for encouraging wider uptake is still missing.


Actions should demonstrate the feasibility of a 'water smart' economy and society in which all available water resources, including surface, groundwater, waste water, and process water, are managed in such a way as to avoid water scarcity and pollution, increase resilience to climate change, appropriately manage water-related risks, and ensure that all valuable substances that could be obtained from waste water treatment processes, or are embedded in used water streams, are recovered.

Actions should address only one of the following sub-topics:

  • a) Symbiosis between industry and water utilities: Actions should demonstrate resource-efficient solutions derived from the systemic exploitation of symbiotic inter-linkages between wastewater treatment in industry and by water utilities. These might address, for instance, the reuse of treated wastewater, the use of substances or energy derived from wastewater treatment, or might demonstrate the concept of dynamic allocation of the right quality of water for the right purpose, while ensuring health and safety. Innovative solutions do not need to be only technological, but may also encompass other types of innovation such as innovative governance and stakeholder engagement or business models in industrial environments.
  • b) Large scale applications with multiple water users at various relevant scales: Actions should test and demonstrate systemic innovation in real life, large scale operational environments. Actions should address multiple water users (urban, industrial, rural and agricultural) and various relevant scales (regional/national/international) for:
    • stimulating efficient and multiple use, recycling and reuse of water; recovery of energy and materials (such as nutrients, minerals, chemicals and metals) from water;
    • managing water demand and efficient allocation;
    • exploiting alternative water sources;
    • prevention of water pollution and degradation of the aquatic environment and soil; and
    • cost-effective and smart management of the water system and infrastructure.

As far as possible, the innovative solutions should include all of the above-mentioned activities. Actions should also consider: new marketing and financing concepts and strategies to maximise the multiple values of water and increase the attractiveness of the water sector for investors; new governance approaches and decision-making instruments for water managers; water systems vulnerability approaches and other sustainability assessments (e.g. footprint, Life Cycle Assessment).

The participation of social sciences and humanities, also addressing the gender dimension, is considered crucial to properly address the complex challenges of this topic, especially those related to human behaviour and attitudes towards water, the inter-linkages between policy and implementation, and acceptance of the solutions developed by both the public and other water users.

For both sub-topics, deployment of enabling digital solutions for the monitoring, control and optimisation of data and processes is also encouraged. Where appropriate, related regulatory and institutional barriers which prevent the wide application of developed innovative solutions should be addressed. Where technological innovation is concerned, TRL 5-7 should be achieved. To assure applicability and wide deployment of the innovative water technologies in different conditions (including different water resources, economic, social and regulatory settings) involvement of market take-up partners and/or end users from a wide range of different European regions is strongly encouraged, as well as SME participation.

The Commission considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU of between EUR 10 million and EUR 15 million would allow this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.

Expected Impact

The project results are expected to contribute to:

  • significantly reduced use of water from freshwater sources;
  • improved recovery and use of resources (materials and water itself), including energy;
  • mobilisation of water-related investments and synergies with other funding instruments.
  • the creation of new business opportunities and increased competiveness of EU industries;
  • supporting, as appropriate, the implementation of EU water policies, the transition to a more circular economy at different scales and economic and social conditions, water security, water use efficiency, enhanced resilience to climate change and achievement of the relevant Sustainable Development Goals;
  • the implementation of the objectives of the EIP Water and, where appropriate, supporting the implementation and evaluation of technology verification schemes, including the EU Environmental Technology Verification Pilot (ETV) programme.

Cross-cutting Priorities

  • Gender
  • RRI
  • Socio-economic science and humanities
  • Open Innovation
  • Contractual Public-Private Partnerships (cPPPs)
Date de candidature
Sciences sociales : Economie, Sciences environnementales, Géographie
Autres : Physique, mathématiques et ingénierie