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(A.) Policy and legislation

(A.1) Policy objectives

Global water challenges are critical for our society, including alterations in water quality and availability, the frequency of floods and droughts due to climate and other environmental changes, pollution trends and increased competition in water uses. Currently, these cause serious problems in 11% of the EU territory and this is expected to increase to 30% by 2030 22. Moreover, the usage of water is a key enabler for urban and rural industrial activities that is expected to increase by 55% in 2050 23 24. It is fundamental to improve integrated water resource protection and management in the man-made or natural environments by addressing integrated water and wastewater management, water reuse, circular economy, water system monitoring and reporting, pollution reduction and prevention, smart irrigation, resilience in the field of floods and droughts, leakage reduction and prevention, water governance, and awareness raising of the true value of water by all stakeholders.

For these reasons, it is essential to develop and implement robust, smart, cost-effective, efficient and tailored water management systems, solutions and multi-sectoral governance models in Europe and globally. Advanced digital technologies comprise transversal common topics: big data-analytics, data sharing, privacy management, real-time and near-real-time monitoring, sensors, smart devices, decision support systems and water management tools, IoT, cloud and fog computing platforms, artificial intelligence and machine learning, algorithms, augmented reality and simulation tools, image and streaming data processing capabilities, reporting and consumer awareness tools and applications, cyber-security, system interoperability and standardisation solutions. These networked, intelligent systems help make better use of energy, avoid unnecessary water losses and minimize the consumption of resources.

Since 2007, the organisation, infrastructure and management of environmental data has been standardised through the INSPIRE Directive (Directive 2007/2/EC ), but implementation is lagging behind, in particular many efforts in thematic domains, such as data related water management are ongoing to improve standardisation for interoperability.

The 2019 European Green Deal (COM(2019) 640) recognises the potential of digitalisation to achieve the environment and climate aims and the necessity to explore sustainable digital technologies as essential enablers of the changes needed for a just green transition. Reference is made to digital technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), 5G, cloud and edge computing and the Internet of Things (IoT) as having the potential to accelerate and maximise the impact of policies to protect the environment and to address climate change (COM(2019) 640, p.)

Since 2007, the organisation, infrastructure and management of environmental data has been standardised through the INSPIRE Directive (Directive 2007/2/EC ), but implementation is lagging behind, in particular many efforts in thematic domains, such as data related water management are ongoing to improve standardisation for interoperability.

The Zero Pollution (ZP) initiative and ZP Action Plan “Towards Zero Pollution for Air, Water and Soil” (COM(2021) 400) announces a number of flagship initiatives of the Commission which will encourage the sustainable deployment of digital solutions and start an exchange of good practices. It foster digitalisation of water sector to reach zero pollution ambition that for water. The vision and the key priorities in conjunction with the ICT4Water cluster - a community of 65 EU-funded research and innovation projects has been explicitly characterized in the Commission Staff Working Document ‘On Digital solutions for zero pollution’ (SWD(2021) 140, see p.25-26).

The green and digital transitions can offer new opportunities for achieving environmental objectives provided that the environmental risks stemming from digitalisation are managed. Many such cases already exist and 25 of them have been illustrated in the Staff Working Document “Digital Solutions for Zero Pollution”. These examples represent only a small amount of all digital solutions for zero pollution. However, green digital transition is not possible without standardisation. The key elements needs standardisation are related to e.g. digital wins, data visualisation and dissemination, for smartening water management in creating smart resilient cities and communities, to manage eHealth and environmental pollution of water, use of smart sensors, IoT in water monitoring, optimisation of water sector operations by employing e.g. Machine Learning, use of Augmented Reality applications for water, etc.

The ICT4Water cluster is a hub for EU-funded research and innovation projects developing digital solutions for the water sector. Since January 2018 the cluster is led by EASME/REA. The cluster supports its members in exchanging information and best practices, disseminating and exploiting project outputs, contributing to define digital water strategies and to policy development in digital and water domain. The cluster has 65 member projects, financed by Horizon 2020, the LIFE programme, the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and the Climate-KIC’s Pathfinder Programme. In the context of the cluster, several studies and reports on digital water have been published in previous years. Of the EU-funded projects, three main digital solution types, data driven intelligence, smart sensors/drones and models/simulation account for the 67% of the ICT technologies used so far. While there is an increase of digital adoption in water, the sector still lags behind other industries in integrating new, smart technologies into the whole water cycle and ecosystem. The interoperability and the standardisation is the issue for digitalisation of water sector.. Currently, the cluster, with its seven action groups, among them Action group on Smart water data interoperability and standardisation, collaborates with ETSI, and working on SAREF extension for water.

(A.2) EC perspective and progress report

The European Commission is working towards the definition of long-term regulatory strategy concerning the adoption of smart water technologies in coordination with relevant stakeholders and standard organisations, to ensure smooth digitalisation of water services over the next decade.

Data are the centrepiece of the digital agenda. Digitalisation has already helped generate, share, manage and re-use data more efficiently but latest technologies offer radically new solutions, which are not yet commonplace.

The water sector is living a revolution in their infrastructure towards the digitalization and the adoption of novel digital technologies (e.g. edge computing, Big Data, semantic interoperability, etc.). Indeed, water sector is moving to the Industry 4.0 paradigm to ensure the commitments of EU water directives in drinking water, water quality, bathing quality, and groundwater quality. Moreover, the application of novel digital technologies will also pave the way to the commitment of green deal directive in terms of efficiency of resources and finally, impacting on the adaptation and mitigation of climate change.

Under this paradigm shift, standardisation has also produced a change in the water industry minds. The water sector immersed in the adoption of private standards for water management and monitoring have evolved to the adoption of open standards. In this regards, newer semantic interoperable standards as SAREF4WATR have permitted the common representation of water data across systems. Complementary, the generation of context-brokers based on the ETSI GS CIM 009 specification opens the innovation towards the adoption of common reference digital architectures.

However, there are still some gaps and challenges to cover towards making water sector open and transparent. Indeed, interoperability and data standardisation requires for their large-scale adoption and the generation of open and linked curated water data sets to sustain newer digital innovations. This aspect will remove the generated barriers in information exchange caused by the lived fragmentation and heterogeneity of digital water infrastructures. Considering water data exchange, there is a real evidence on the interrelation of water domain with their interrelated domains (e.g. energy, climate, land-use, etc.). This will permit to establish balanced policy and decision-making actions. Moreover, it also will permit to transfer and replicable decision-making tools and strategies between domains. The proliferation of AI driven tools have put on evidence the need to create trustworthy and transparent models. These aspects are currently available in the recently published EU Data Strategy and Artificial Intelligence Act. Subsequently, there is a need to establish the basis to adopt those directives. For that, main gap is the lack of data sovereignty and non-discriminator algorithms to support these change. All of these aspects highlights the lack of newer digital business models able to make the transition from traditional models towards data centered models.

EU needs to move towards the generation of common data places to enable not only free-flow of information but also the elaboration of digital data spaces to share datasets and knowledge at cross-domain. Under this vision, EU needs to reduce the legislative and policy-making gaps that exist on data sharing across different countries (Data Governance Act, COM(2020) 767). This aspect will facilitate a more cohesive EU in terms of data transparency and data democracy. These aspects applied into the water sector will permit to unlock organizations and people potential to generate AI driven innovations from water sector. Therefore, it will permit to introduce social innovations in water management, water quality management, etc.

Another key aspect in the Water Framework Directive towards the incorporation of Earth Observation and data-driven models as a part of the water technologies to monitor water resources and quality. A strategy and standardisation in this regards will permit to open up the proliferation of standardized data-driven tools capable of improving existing monitoring methods protected under a standardized umbrella.

Finally, and in terms of ICT standardisation in the EU, there exist some standardisation landscape that covers EU and worldwide standardisation in water-related sector. These open-standards covers all horizontal (e.g. water reuse and recycling across sectors) and also, vertical sectorial aspects (from monitoring to data visualization). In the view of this standards however, there is a gap in standardisation of water data manipulation and knowledge generation and lack of standardisation in the SMART Water Market is seen as one of the biggest obstacles in realising the full potential that the adoption of this technology has in making SMART Water Networks standard practice. This is an aspect that should be reinforced in the following years.

(A.3) References

Other relevant references:

  • General Union Environment Action Programme to 2030 COM(2020) 652
  • The European Green Deal COM(2019) 640
  • Commission Communication - Shaping Europe’s digital future COM(2020) 67
  • A European strategy for data COM(2020) 66
  • WHITE PAPER On Artificial Intelligence - A European approach to excellence and trust COM(2020) 65
  • A New Industrial Strategy for Europe COM(2020) 102

(B.) Requested actions

The requested actions towards digitalisation of the water sector and implementation of ICT were defined in the scope of the ICT4Water Cluster:

ACTION 1 Guidelines for the definition of Smart Water Grids, powered by IoT technologies and standards, which contributes to decentralised, circular water and information flow. The concept of the Smart Water Grid was expected to be developed in the framework of ICT4Water Cluster running projects. Many standards organisations such as ETSI, CEN/CENELEC, AIOTI,OGC, OpenFog, BVDA are expected to contribute in coordination with the EC.

ACTION 2 Guidelines and collaborative work among key actors (associations, alliances, SDOs, etc.) for the definition of Water Big Data standardisation frameworks, which contributes to implementing smart water best practices and an interoperability framework for smart water services. Special emphasis is made on key aspects of a big data platform such as integration, analytics, visualisation, development, workload optimisation, security and governance. ICT4Water Cluster used the testbeds established in the scope of the running projects to prove working concepts. There is a need of coordination with other sector programmes supported by EC like environment, communication and content management, humanitarian operations, space etc.

ACTION 3 Selection and integration of the widely accepted technologies in each class among all the range of suitable standards and ontologies ensuring the interoperability at data and communication levelas SAREF for example. SDOs have to define the framework that allows the producers, providers, stakeholders and end-users to develop the smart water services next decade. The process needs to be in conformance to the policy set by the European Commission.

ACTION 4 Definition of open models and open data through interoperable platforms. The first steps as a policy decision are made by the EC. Then SDOs have to define the architectures, data models, ontologies, standard interfaces and protocols to allow data sharing, platforms integration and interoperability.

ACTION 5 Incentives for the adoption of Open Data standards, in order to be able to provide information in a transparent and up to date manner. This action is related to the policy of the EC but needs to be developed taking into account the security. Citizen’s awareness is an important issue and is related to the developed open data models by standards organisations in Action 4.

(C.) Activities and additional information

(C.1) Related standardisation activities

A European Technical Report comprising a software and hardware open architecture for utility meters that supports secure bidirectional communication upstream and downstream through standardised interfaces and data exchange formats and allows advanced information and management and control systems for consumers and service suppliers. The Report identifies a functional reference architecture for communications in smart metering systems. and the standards relevant to meeting the technical / data communications requirements of Mandate M/441, in particular to assist the active participation of consumers. The architecture has been developed drawing on existing and planned implementations, but its generic nature should enable it to support future different implementations.

The previous CEN_CENELEC-ETSI Smart Meters Co-ordination Group has been merged into the similar structure dealing with smart energy grids co-ordination (see the relevant section of the Rolling Plan).


HY_FEATURES: reference model defining real-world water-objects and the way they relate to each other according to hydro-science domain defined by semantics and network topology.

WaterML2.0. Standard information model for the representation of water observations data, with the intent of allowing the exchange of such data sets across information systems, using existing OGC standards.


SAREF Investigation for Water (DTR/SmartM2M-103547): determining the requirements for an initial semantic model for the Water domain based on a set of use cases and from available existing data models.

Industry Specification Group “City Digital Profile” (ISG CDP) was doing work relevant to city standards for water management, but the ISG was closed September 2019.


See CEN/CENELEC/ETSI entry above


INSPIRE Directive. reference EU architecture for data sets sharing between EU countries.


Generic Sensor networks Application Interfaces (ISO/IEC 30128). International Standard that depicts operational requirements for generic sensor network applications, description of sensor network capabilities, and mandatory and optional interfaces between the applications.


The ITU-T Focus Group on Smart Water Management (FG-SWM) issued a series of deliverables including the following:

  • The Role of ICT in Water Resource Management
  • Smart Water Management Stakeholders Map
  • Smart water management project classification
  • Smart water management stakeholder challenges and mitigation report on the KPI to assess the impact of the use of ICT in SWM

The ITU-T Focus Group on Environmental Efficiency for Artificial Intelligence and other Emerging Technologies (FG-AI4EEE) will develop technical reports and technical specifications to address issues related to environmental efficiency, water and energy consumption. More information on ITU FG-AI4EE is available at:

Recommendation ITU-T F.747.6 elaborates on the “Requirements for water quality assessment services using ubiquitous sensor networks (USNs)”

ITU-T SG20 is currently working on draft Recommendation on “Framework of monitoring of water system for smart fire protection” (Y.water-SFP).


ISO/TC 282:standardisation of water re-use of any kind and for any purpose. It covers both centralised and decentralised or on-site water re-uses, direct and indirect ones as well as intentional and unintentional ones. It includes technical, economic, environmental, and societal aspects of water re-use. Water re-use comprises a sequence of the stages and operations involved in uptaking, conveyance, processing, storage, distribution, consumption, drainage, and other actions related to the handling of wastewater, including the water re-use in repeated, cascaded, and recycled ways.


WITS Standard Protocol: standard method dedicated to water industry telemetry control and monitoring. This standard protocol makes interoperable equipment from different manufacturers by using features of the DNP3 protocol to satisfy water industry specific functional requirements.


oneM2M was launched in 2012 as a global initiative to ensure the most efficient deployment of Machine-to-Machine (M2M) communications systems and the Internet of Things (IoT) and it includes several SDOs and representatives of different industry sectors. The latest technical specifications can be found on their website

The oneM2M standards supports a multi domains/solutions integration that supports Water Management digitalisation requirements, and in particular the integration with the other services and systems that are building the Digital Single Market (e.g. the integration with Smart Cities and with Smart Agriculture solutions). The SAREF ontology makes use of oneM2M as a communication framework (ETSI TS 103 264 (Reference Ontology and oneM2M Mapping) and a specific Smart Watering extension (ETSI TS 103 410-10) is available at


High Level Reference Architecture:reference ICT architecture and semantic data model based on the ISO/IEC/IEEE 42010 standard for representing IoT entities and services. This reference architecture is transversal to several domains including water.


Web of Things Working Group: RDF and Linked Data vocabularies to reduce the fragmentation generated in the IoT devices. Moreover, this group is also focused on providing best practices and corresponding APIs to enable semantic interoperability within the Smart City. Extension of data model towards modelling IoT entities with focus on energy, transport, and water infrastructures.

(7) ICT4Water cluster:, Action Plan for a DSM for Water Services on the discussion platform Futurium:




25 This initiative was announced in the European Data Strategy and it consists in evaluating and possibly reviewing the Directive establishing an Infrastructure for Spatial Information in the EU (INSPIRE), together with the Access to Environment Information Directive. It will modernise the regime in line with technological and innovation opportunities, making it easier for EU public authorities, businesses and citizens to support the transition to a greener and carbon-neutral economy, and reducing administrative burden.