NWO WaterScape project gets started

Climate-robust and adaptive water systems on the landscape scale for adequate fresh water supplies

The NWO WaterScape project has begun. It will focus on the development of WaterScapes: climate-robust and adaptive water systems on the landscape scale that will continue to supply enough fresh water in the future. This requires the redevelopment of water and governance systems. During the kick-off meeting on 27 February, scientific partners, consulting firms and stakeholders immediately engaged in discussions to jointly outline the initial visions for ‘waterscapes’. Ruud Bartholomeus: “Working on a climate-robust water system is also about what isn’t possible any longer: which things we may have to leave behind. The kick-off meeting tackled this delicate issue from the word go”.

Climate-robust water systems on the landscape scale

In early 2023, the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) awarded three projects that will work out the details of Climate-Robust Water Systems on the Landscape Scale, a Knowledge and Innovation Covenant (KIC) programme. One of the projects is WaterScape: a partnership between universities, colleges, research institutions and consultancy firms, and a broad group of stakeholders. The project will be led by Niko Wanders of Utrecht University. KWR is involved as a partner and KWR researcher Ruud Bartholomeus is, as part of his work at Wageningen University, one of the initiators and work package leaders.

The WaterScape logo

The interdisciplinary approach improves effectiveness

Climate change means we need to anticipate changes in the availability of fresh water in the Dutch water system. In the short term, challenges relating to water management can still be addressed by optimising the current water system. But because the limits of the current system are now within sight, solutions will also be needed for the transition to a water system that will remain robust and resilient for the decades to come.

The conflicting interests of different stakeholders play an important role in this transition. Shaping the transformation will therefore demand an interdisciplinary approach in which the policy-related, legal, economic, ethical and/or social aspects of the issue will be studied from the outset and included in the process, together with all the stakeholders and their interests. This focus on all disciplines and stakeholders will ensure that knowledge and innovative solutions for the design of a resilient, robust water system and landscape will also be implemented more effectively in practice.

Redevelopment of water and governance systems

WaterScape will explore large-scale spatial transitions in the physical and administrative water system. Three living labs (in Noord-Brabant, Utrechtse Heuvelrug and Groningen) will study the opportunities, challenges and conflicting interests of different land-use and stakeholder groups. The aim will be to extend the findings from these living labs to the regional and national scales and create a more climate-robust waterscape for the future.

Transformation pathways for the physical and administrative water systems

WaterScape supports the required water transition by developing innovative waterscape narratives. Waterscapes are climate-robust and adaptive water systems on the landscape scale. WaterScape aims to facilitate the road to those landscapes by treating governance and physical design as equally important components of the required water transition. As part of the narratives, WaterScape will develop transformation pathways for both the physical and administrative water systems. Those pathways will be based on quantifying climate impacts, defining desirable future scenarios, rethinking the system functions in place, organising difficult stakeholder dialogues and exploring the required changes in the administrative context.

Kick-off meeting on 27 February

An article about the research was recently published in the journal Water Governance. The project kicked off officially on 27 February with a day-long workshop at De Landgoederij in Bunnik. The meeting with scientific partners, consultancy firms and stakeholders turned immediately to the joint sketching of the initial visions of ‘waterscapes’, without shying away from uncomfortable issues.

The WaterScape project kick-off meeting

Ruud Bartholomeus: “The kick-off meeting confirmed that WaterScape will allow us to meet a genuine need: the combination of water system and governance issues is critical to actually achieving change. Too often, research reports end up on the shelf, and fail to result in change. In WaterScape, we link up with ongoing area processes for research, but we also aim to implement knowledge directly in practice. Participants at the kick-off meeting got to experience the WaterScape approach for themselves: we made a start on the discussion of difficult issues and the first visual narratives. There were good discussions, people were open-minded and, even at this early stage, the participants picked up a lot of innovative insights.”