Possible futures for a healthy water system at GRROW Symposium

Young water professionals establish new basis for the drinking water future

“Technological solutions are indispensable to meet the rise in drinking water demand,” said Brabant Water director Rob van Dongen during the panel discussion at the GRROW Symposium on 15 March 2023. This was the final session on the results of a two-year exploratory research project looking at the future of drinking water in 2070.

During the panel discussion with drinking-water executives, Rob van Dongen emphasised that technological solutions are needed to ensure that his region will not be affected by drinking water shortages as early as 2040, “in other words, well before 2070”. “Take, for instance, using seawater as drinking water.” Technological solutions are the central theme of the GRROW scenario ‘Water to measure’. In addition to ‘Water to measure’, ‘Dischargers are Losers’ and ‘Collective Chain’ were the other scenarios presented. Panelists Riksta Zwart of the Groningen Water Company, Louise Vanysacker of De Watergroep from Flanders and BTO Programme Manager Anne Mathilde Hummelen commented on the scenarios.

During the panel discussion, Riksta Zwart, Anne Mathilde Hummelen, Rob van Dongen and Louise Vanysacker (from left to right) discussed the scenarios developed in the GRROW project.

“Intrinsic motivation for healthy water system”

Riksta Zwart commented on ‘Dischargers are Losers’, saying that she assumes that there will be intrinsic motivation among all stakeholders in 2070 to maintain water quality. “It is not the role of the drinking water company to police discharges in the future. For the medium term, I am assuming that raising awareness will do the trick: the realisation that a healthy water system depends on looking beyond our own interests. This is also the thinking behind the plan for Groningen’s water transition.” Louise Vanysacker explained that, in Flanders, De Watergroep is already familiar with the ‘Collective Chain’ principle and graduated rates for drinking water. “Our challenge is that we need to switch from the individual solution of harvesting rainwater for flushing in individual homes to larger-scale approaches. I see the collective chain, the ring water mains, in combination with ‘Water to measure’ as a realistic scenario for the future.”
Anne Mathilde Hummelen added that, for the Branch Research Programme (BTO), “it is so important to look to the future. Looking ahead is a structural component of the BTO, and that includes trends outside our field. The drinking water industry needs that to identify the challenges coming our way.”

Spatial planning students from The Hague Hogeschool made models showing the scenarios from the GRROW project.

“Brainpower and operational strength”

In addition to a presentation of the scenarios, project leader Nicolien van Aalderen of KWR explained the approach of the GRROW project (Generational and Radical Rethinking of the Water Sector), in which there are intergenerational dialogues between young drinking water professionals and their more experienced colleagues. The outcomes of these discussions were combined with workshops to identify current ideas about the drinking water chain, rethink them and design scenarios for the future. “All the brainpower and operational strength will be needed in the future. The GRROW project has demonstrated that young professionals are also very keen to be involved. Nearly 100 young professionals in all kinds of different positions were involved in developing these scenarios,” said Nicolien van Aalderen.

The GRROW Symposium was the first knowledge and networking event to be held in 2023 as part of the BTO’s 40th anniversary. The anniversary version of the BTO Programme Day and several other anniversary events will take place later this year.