Listen to more than thirty years of experience with drinking water infrastructure

Five-part podcast series Aqua Pensionada with KWR researcher Jan Vreeburg

For more than three decades, Jan Vreeburg worked on every detail of the drinking water infrastructure. Among other things, he was one of the founding fathers of the approach for determining the security of supply for drinking water that is now enshrined in law. With retirement around the corner, Vreeburg is sharing his knowledge and experience in a five-part podcast series that is aptly titled Aqua Pensionada.

Click on the podcast of your choice and learn about the past, present and future of the world behind the drinking water infrastructure seen through the eyes of an experienced water scientist.

Champion in drinking water supply

Why do we have the best drinking water supply in the world here in the Netherlands? When we put this question to Jan Vreeburg, he explains that it is no coincidence. “Traditionally, we are very aware about water in the Netherlands,” he says. “We have developed a healthy respect for water, in combination with the urge to establish realistic management. Dikes, locks, dams … the quality of these physical structures is crucial. Because failures have major consequences. Drinking water systems were set up on the basis of the same philosophy: quality before everything.”

Vreeburg outlines the history of drinking water supply that culminated in the 1958 Water Supply Act. The podcast describes how forty years of collaboration between KWR and the drinking water utilities has resulted in a sector that is among the world’s best. And how eliminating chlorine demonstrated how important it is to have biologically stable water, but in particular to work hygienically in and around the mains system.

Brown water as a driver of research

In this podcast, Jan Vreeburg identifies to the phenomenon of ‘brown water’ as a driver of serious research into complaints from critical consumers about drinking water quality. He focuses on the late 1980s and early 1990s. “KWR – Kiwa back then – was asked to establish a picture of the phenomenon of brown water and provide an assessment,” Vreeburg recalls. Measures were recommended to address the complaints, which meant thoroughly cleaning the mains system on the basis of calculations.

The podcast describes the effect of that work and the concept – which is now well known – that it led to. “This example shows how research can lead to a radical break with the traditional approach to a mains network,” says Vreeburg.

The world of security of supply

In this podcast, KWR researcher Jan Vreeburg takes you on a journey around the world of the security of supply for drinking water. This is one of the cornerstones of our sector. He makes the abstract concept concrete by sketching the historical context. And also by explaining two key steps in the quantification of security of supply as a test for infrastructure: hydraulics and the application of Murphy’s law.

Vreeburg: “You shouldn’t focus so much on preventing things going wrong; things just happen. What matters is how you cope with a failure.” In the interview, the researcher explains how this call for security of supply led to the Supply Plan, which has been included in the Drinking Water Act.

Chlorine prohibited

In a previous episode in this podcast series, Jan Vreeburg talked about the excellent quality of Dutch drinking water as seen from the perspective of the properties of the mains system. This time, he looks at the production of this hygienically reliable drinking water. “The main principle when it comes to water quality is: start with a clean source,” says Vreeburg. “Because then you won’t have to remove what’s not there in the first place.”

The researcher refers to groundwater and surface water as sources for drinking water production with specific challenges. And he highlights an important tipping point in Dutch drinking water production: the year 1976, when the use of chlorine was prohibited in our country. The abolition of chlorine led to a focus on making water biologically stable. “For our research, this meant working on areas like finding new parameters to describe that biological stability,” says Vreeburg.

What changes in drinking water distribution are in store?

To conclude this podcast series, Jan Vreeburg looks to the future. His insights focus on challenges relating to drinking water sources, climate change and rising demand for drinking water. “I think we are at a similar tipping point as we were in the 1970s,” says Vreeburg. “The answer then was: quality and safety before everything. So it was decided to have chlorine-free drinking water.” The hope he sees, in the light of that approach in the past, is clear to hear in this final podcast from the experienced water scientist.

On 30 November Jan Vreeburg will bid farewell to KWR on the occasion of his retirement.