Achieving optimal balance between water demand and water availability

Multi-annual water availability and drought project concluded

For drinking water utilities, it is important to develop a well-founded future vision of water sources in in relation to the context. This is one of the recommendations presented at the Symposium on Water Availability and Drought over Long Term, which was held at KWR on 5 March 2024.

Besides a future vision, the drinking water utilities need to continually optimise their abstraction concepts and stakeholder management, so that conscious choices can be made about the details of their role. In addition, they can ask that attention be paid to the consequences for other infrastructure, such as the pipe network, when choices are made concerning sources. These recommendations were produced by the theme-overarching project of the Joint Research Programme (BTO), entitled ‘Water availability and drought over long term’, which was concluded this spring. The multi-annual project consisted of sub-studies on water availability, distribution and water conservation, and on the perception of the role of the drinking water utilities. During the meeting,  project leader Arnaut van Loon (KWR) presented the most important results to the participating drinking water strategists, stakeholder managers, asset managers and customer-relations managers


Image 1. Recommendations from the Joint Research Programme’s ‘Water availability and drought over long term’ project were presented during the Symposium.

Water for drinking water provision no longer self-evident

Because of climate change, population growth, inadequate water quality and spatial pressures, the availability of sufficient water for the provision of drinking water in the Netherlands and Flanders can no longer be taken for granted. The research project offers new insights for the drinking water sector in the effort to realise the water transition. An important objective for drinking water utilities, water managers and nature organisations. To achieve a national and regional balance between water demand and water availability, water managers need to elaborate structuring choices and convert them into decisions for the purpose of bringing about change in practice.

Different water management in rural areas

A decision was made in the research to base it on the premise that water management in rural areas should be fundamentally different, in line with the recommendations of the Beleidstafel Droogte (Drought Policy Committee). This meant that we see the water system with the perspective that sufficient water for drinking water and for nature is a precondition, while taking due account of water availability for other sectors.

Solution pathways for water availability and drought

Following the plenary session, the participants split off into groups to examine the theme of water availability and drought on the basis of four solution pathways:

  • large-scale infiltration,
  • massive retention,
  • source diversification,
  • and water conservation.

The participants discussed the consequences of each solution pathway for asset, stakeholder and customer-relations managers. Actions were also defined for each solution pathway in relation to the question: ‘What are you going to do tomorrow?’. These actions ranged from seeking more interaction with the stakeholder and even better communication, to considering interrupting the water provision for one day, as a means of highlighting the urgency. The discussions during this interactive part also generated more questions for further research, and offered the opportunity for the sharing of different perspectives.

Image 2. Participants discuss the water availability and drought themes during the Symposium.

Integrated solutions for freshwater problems

With the insights from this theme-overarching project (BTO’s Sources and Environment, and Customer themes), the drinking water utilities can better anchor the importance of drinking water and possible integrated solutions for freshwater problems in policy and context processes. The outcomes also provide support in discussions with Water Authorities (where the focus is often on water management for nature and agriculture), provinces and the national government.