Water Sector

Blue Cities: everything revolves around the city

City Blueprint, Water Governance, Spatial Adaption Delta Programme – working towards climate-proof cities

Blue, green, sustainable, smart or climate-adaptive. In the interest of the transition towards the habitable city of the future, national and international habitable-city initiatives are shooting up like mushrooms. The challenges in the field of water are major in that respect. KWR began developing the City Blueprint five years ago; a baseline measurement (and benchmark) as a starting point for the development of a climate-proof city. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) emphasises the importance of water governance. The OECD and KWR are in dialogue in order to harmonise their methods so that they can strengthen each other. The Spatial Adaption Delta Programme is also encouraging cities, provinces, water boards and citizens to work towards a climate-proof situation by sharing knowledge about tools, themes and good practice.

Cities are often built in deltas and worldwide they are increasingly feeling the consequences of climate change. Flooding and periods of drought have put climate adaption on the map in recent years. We are seeing water in the streets, flooding of basements or navigation routes that are hardly passable due to drought occurring more and more frequently. At the same time, the number of people living in cities is increasing. It’s high time that action is taken and many local authorities now believe the same and are therefore actively looking for solutions.

‘Cities and Water’ in Leeuwarden

In February of this year for example there were around 150 international guests present in Leeuwarden for the ‘Cities and Water’ conference, including many mayors from various European cities. Together they compiled an ambitious draft agenda for city water 2030, for which they discussed limiting water leaks, reducing water consumption, reuse of municipal waste water, energy saving in the water chain, recovery of raw materials and reducing urban flooding.

OECD: “too much, too little or too polluted”

During that conference the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) presented the report ‘Water Governance in Cities’ which is based on research into water governance in 48 different cities throughout the world. The challenges facing cities with regard to water can be summarised as ‘too much, too little or too polluted’.

Water governance

Water governance is essential in order to meet these challenges. The OECD has analysed the factors that influence ‘water governance’. Of the 48 cities, 93% reported that old infrastructure is a significant factor. According to 90%, national legislation was a significant factor and in the socio-economic and environmental field, climate change scored highest at 79%. Good Governance is essential in order to create consensus and for ensuring that stakeholders are equipped for meeting these challenges.

City Blueprint

Five years ago KWR began developing the City Blueprint; a baseline measurement (and benchmark) as a starting point for the development of a climate-proof city. “The urban challenges relating to water, waste and climate adaptation are so large and urgent that we believed we had to establish a City Blueprint action group within the framework of the European Commission’s European Innovation Partnership Water (EIP Water)”, says Kees van Leeuwen from KWR. The City Blueprint is a ‘quick scan’ in which a city is assessed against 25 indicators spread across seven categories. These concern basic water services, water quality, waste water treatment, waste, infrastructure, climate adaptation and governance. Internationally, 50 cities have now been assessed using this method. The results from that assessment provide cities with a point of reference for developing policy.


Van Leeuwen: “The City Blueprint is the start of a transition process. It’s no more than that. It can help when formulating long-term objectives and I recommend that cities start using a City Blueprint, which only takes a few days to complete. The process is potentially even more important than the result.” The City Blueprint is the graph, the blue star, of the 25 indicators that are assessed. This ensures that all relevant aspects of the water cycle are considered. “By linking up the various aspects it is possible to save time and money, because linking up is the jackpot”, says Van Leeuwen.


The OECD and KWR are in dialogue with each other about harmonising their methods so that they can strengthen each other. The OECD has analysed the water governance of cities and the City Blueprint provides an indication of performance in relation to water, waste and climate adaptation. KWR recently added to this the Trends and Pressures indicators that provide an indication of the most important environmental factors of a city. These three aspects, the environmental factors, performance and governance analyses, help cities in their transition towards a sustainable water cycle, a circular economy and climate adaptation. In the Horizon 2020 BlueSCities project indicators have also been developed in relation to transport, energy and ICT.

Delta Programme

In the Netherlands the Spatial Adaption Delta Programme encourages cities as well as provinces, water boards and citizens to adopt a climate-proof approach by 2020 and to be climate-proof by 2050. The inter-administrative programme achieves this by sharing knowledge about tools, themes and best practice, for example by no longer building at the lowest point or by ensuring ‘greening’. These parties can obtain information and advice on the spatial adaptation knowledge platform.

According to the Spatial Adaption Delta Programme the most important key area is collaboration. The local authority, the water board, the province and the State have to work together and with citizens to achieve ‘Good Governance’ so that by 2050 we can continue to live securely in our cities.

Delta Commissioner Wim Kuijken encourages spatial adaptation and is pleased that cities are becoming actively involved in it. “In one to two years I want to see whether other additional stimuli are needed, for example via benchmarking, the sharing of best practices or by making additional investments”, says Kuijken. In fact, it is not inconceivable that if the cities lag behind, in due course the government will introduce legislation.

City Deal

There are already clear examples of cities that are not lagging behind. For example, at the beginning of March 2016 nine public and seven (semi) private partners signed the first climate-adaptation City Deal in the Netherlands. The cities of Zwolle, The Hague, Rotterdam, Gouda and Dordrecht are therefore breeding grounds for innovation that benefits a manageable city climate.

Rotterdam as a shining example

Rotterdam is one of the lowest-lying cities in Europe. Despite dykes, dams and water defences, the city remains very vulnerable to flooding during extreme weather. In Rotterdam there are a range of parties working together to create a climate-adaptive city using proven technology and smart, innovative solutions. Floating buildings, water plazas, tidal parks, green roofs and multifunctional dykes are aimed at protecting the city against the consequences of climate change. During the Climate Change Conference in Paris in December 2015, Rotterdam was awarded first prize for the way in which the city is dealing with the consequences of climate change. The competition was organised by the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, an international network of megacities that are working actively in the area of climate change.