Safe drinking water distribution with SafeCREW

Climate-resilient management for safe disinfected and non-disinfected water supply systems

The second meeting of the SafeCREW project (, funded by the European Union (EU) within the Horizon Europe program, has just taken place at Politecnico di Milano. SafeCREW aims to support the novel EU Drinking Water Directive (DWD) by generating advanced knowledge and developing tools and guidelines for disinfected and non-disinfected drinking water supply systems.

Provision of safe drinking water in sufficient quantity is essential for human health and concerns 4 out of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as defined by United Nations. Both surface water and groundwater are essential resources for drinking water supply throughout the European Union. While water quantity, threatened by increasingly frequent periods of drought, receives much attention, the threats of climate change impacts on water quality for drinking water supply, on the treatment processes necessary for its purification and on the maintenance of drinking water quality along the distribution network are currently inadequately considered.

Despite the long-term experience with the reliable operation of drinking water supply systems (DWSS), the climate change impacts on water quality require to face a number of new challenges: the (future) need for disinfection, the microbial stability in the distribution network, and the formation of disinfection by-products (DBPs), with potential adverse effects on human health.

Utilities need to address short-term demands for improved risk management arising from the current DWD, as well the long-term challenges of climate change impacts on water quality, minimizing the risks for final consumers.

Currently, DWSS are very diversified by source of supply, purification processes, characteristics of the distribution networks, so that they must address different concerns to supply drinking water safe for human health. SafeCREW faces these critical issues, focusing on disinfection, its consequences, and the minimization of disinfectant dosages and DBPs formation, and moreover it addresses the potential need for disinfection in currently non-disinfected DWSS.

Four case studies in three European countries were chosen as representative (Hamburg, Berlin, Milano, Tarragona) to develop novel technological and modelling tools for drinking water treatment and distribution management, with a multidisciplinary approach, which allows to act on the entire DWSS, from the supply source, via purification treatments, up to the final distribution.

More in detail, chemical and microbiological water quality characterization methods will be improved, novel data sets on the occurrence and concentration of so far unknown DBPs will be created, evaluation protocols for materials in contact with water will be identified, innovative and sustainable treatment solutions will be developed to actively respond to the identified threats, the management of distribution networks will be optimized, which can no longer be seen only as passive infrastructures for water distribution, and finally risk assessment procedures will be defined that integrate the effects of mixtures of chemical and microbiological contaminants.

SafeCREW will provide transferable tools to end-users (water utilities, national/EU regulators, researchers, enterprises), including:

  • reliable methods to evaluate microbial stability, characterize natural organic matter (NOM), detect DBPs and account for their human health toxicity;
  • experimental protocols to select proper materials in contact with disinfected and non-disinfected water;
  • monitoring and modelling tools, also exploiting machine learning, for real-time optimization of DWSS management;
  • an integrated risk assessment framework to guide future interventions which ensure that both disinfected and non-disinfected DWSS can continue providing safe drinking water in the face of climate change.

SafeCREW will increase the preparedness of the EU water sector for challenges arising from climate change and will support the EU’s leading position in science-based policy making for drinking water consumer protection.

Water) Research Center (Leader) and Tutech Innovation GmbH, both at Hamburg University of Technology (TUHH) (Germany), Kompetenzzentrum Wasser Berlin (KWB) (Germany), BioDetection Systems b.v. (BDS) (The Netherlands), EURECAT Technologic de Catalunya (Spain), Umweltbundesamt (UBA) (Germany), Consorci d’Aigües de Tarragona (CAT) (Spain), Metropolitana Milanese SpA (Italy), Umweltforschungszentrum Leipzig (Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, UFZ, Germany) and Multisensor Systems Ltd. (MSS, United Kingdom).

Politecnico di Milano brings in SafeCREW multidisciplinary skills thanks to the collaboration of researchers from four Departments: Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (DICA, prof. Manuela Antonelli), Department of Chemistry, Materials and Chemical Engineering “G. Natta” (DCMC, prof. Carlo Punta), Department of Mathematics (DMAT, prof. Ilenia Epifani) and Department of Electronics, Information and Bioengineering (DEIB, prof. Francesco Trovò).