In March 2015, Naturalis Biodiversity Center and KWR Watercycle Research Institute sealed their agreement to become preferred partners in Biodiversity & Water. Concretely, this is reflected in a joint effort to use DNA techniques and ecological knowledge to make the monitoring of water quality objective and reproducible. Biological experts assist water managers in making the right diagnosis with a view to achieving effective decision-making and policy.
Tens of millions of euros are spent annually in the Netherlands to meet the water-body monitoring obligations under the European Water Framework Directive. The determination of the biological quality of water is based on target organisms: their presence or absence is an indication for water managers of the status of a body of water. ‘But there are drawbacks to the current monitoring methods,’ says Berry van der Hoorn, project leader at Naturalis. ‘Apart from the fact that the selection and determination of samples is time-consuming, it actually involves routine work that is being carried out by experts. That’s not a desirable combination. The identification of species demands a great deal of specific knowledge. But the level of knowledge among water managers varies. That’s why you can’t always compare the results of the different waterboards with each other. What’s more, the number of species experts in our country is shrinking. It is becoming clearer and clearer that something has to be done.’ There’s a lot of room for progress in this substantive side of biomonitoring. KWR project leader, Michiel Hootsmans, adds another important point: ‘In the past few years a lot of hard work has gone into establishing measurement scales, so as to determine a water quality score based on lists of species. It’s a kind of grade for the water body concerned. This grade is the end point of the Water Framework Directive’s system. But, for water managers, it represents the beginning. If you don’t get a satisfactory grade, what exactly are you supposed to do to improve the quality of the water? You won’t have an answer unless you make the right diagnosis.