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Brussels water price rise unjustified, says ULB expert
The Brussels region had no valid reason to increase the price of water by some 15% last year, according to a study by Xavier May, economist at the Institute of Water Management, Environment and Regional Planning at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB).
The 14.5% planned increase imposed by Brussels water company Vivaqua and approved by Brussels’ main utility regulator Brugel, meant that two-people households are having to pay €43 more on their annual water bills on average.
Due to a rise in maintenance costs, Vivaqua said it had no choice but to increase tap water prices further, by 4.1% in 2024 and by 2% in 2025 and 2026.
But, according to May, consumers are unfairly having to pay for the cost of treating some waste water, the researcher said in the work published by the Brussels Studies Institute, the network for research carried out by universities on Brussels.
May argues that Brussels water consumers are, wrongly, the main contributors to financing the fight against floods and funding the collection and purification of water in Brussels sewers.
“If we exclude the wastewater coming from Flanders, whose costs are paid for in part by Flanders, approximately half the water in the Brussels sewer network is rainwater and parasitic clear water,” he said.
He said that consumers are not responsible for the presence of parasites in this clear water or for the need to combat flooding. They should not have to contribute to waster costs under the polluter pays principle.
“Amounts unjustifiably payable by consumers, especially taking into account the subsidy granted to Brussels water management company Hydria, leads to an annual amount more than €50 million, or around 20% of the revenues linked to the sale of water in the Brussels region.
“This estimate needs to be fine-tuned. But it indicates that the price of water is too expensive in Brussels,” May said, condemning Vivaqua’s decision to push up water costs as unjustified.
“If we don’t want to increase consumers’ water bills, the regional budget option [giving more money from this pot] seems legitimate,” the economist said.
But faced with tensions surrounding this plan, he said it was essential to look for new ideas to finance the management and supply of water in the capital.
Notably, May calls for an increased property tax to be levied on all real estate owners in the Brussels region. Part of this money would be dedicated to improving the cleanliness of clear water.