Water in the City: rain after sunshine!

Our work on ‘Water in the City’ is based on an old piece of medical wisdom: prevention is better than cure. It is also a lot cheaper. Recent water damage in the Netherlands, following a week of heavy rainfall, was estimated to exceed €500 million by the insurance industry. Preventing such misery starts with a good diagnosis. At KWR we do this with two tools that are now part of the Watershare Tool Suite: the City Blueprint and the Governance Capacity Analysis tools, which were recently presented by Stef Koop in Tokyo at the IWA-congres. This year the work has been deepened and implemented in four case studies by our Bachelor’s and Master’s students at Utrecht University: (1) Sabadell: water reuse in Spain, (2) Utrecht: governance capacity analysis of extreme rainfall, and (3) Netherlands and the UK: governance analysis of flood risks. We also studied (4) ‘the costs of inaction’ in greater detail.  The students positively surprised us and I briefly present the results of their work below.

Diagram of City Blueprint approach.


Governance analysis of water reuse in Sabadell

Marketa Šteflová, together with colleagues from KWR and CTM in Spain, conducted her Bachelor’s research into the governance of water reuse in Sabadell as part of the European H2020 POWER-project. Her structured analysis shows that water reuse is held back primarily by perception, lack of good quality criteria for reused water, and management embedding. The work has been published in the magazine Water.

Extreme rainfall in Utrecht

Romy Brockhoff conducted her Bachelor’s research into governance capacity in dealing with extreme rainfall in the city of Utrecht. The fact that Utrecht does not have much green space renders the city particularly vulnerable to downpours. Following her extensive research, Romy proposes that financial incentives, binding regulations and greater citizen involvement present solution pathways. Read more here meer.

Flood risks

Stef Koop, together with Laura Schoot and Fabian Monteiro Gomes, both UU Master’s students, carried out a comparative analysis of the governance of flood risks in Rotterdam and Amsterdam (NL) and Leicester and Milton Keynes (UK). History, in particular the manner in which the risks are dealt with by the government (NL) or the citizens (UK), confirmed the conclusions of a previous OECD report on the Netherlands, namely: in the field of water, Dutch citizens are considerably freed of concern. This exciting research has been published in the magazine Sustainability.

Costs of inaction

One of the things that very much surprised me (and still does) is the great tranquillity and passivity prevailing among managers when it comes to their city and the risks presented by extreme weather (heat, drought and flooding). But thanks to our Delta Programme Commissioner and an assertive Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, managers are being compelled to become aware of these matters by, for instance, obligating municipalities to conduct stress-tests. We also try to strengthen this awareness through our Watershare tools. Another means of making managers conscious of their responsibility is to calculate the cost of their passivity. What are the costs of inaction? This research was done by Harry Nicklin in partnership with Nelen & Schuurman and the brief conclusion I’d like to draw from their work is twofold. First, the stress-test with the water-damage estimator deserves a European roll-out. Second, managerial passivity is nothing new. ‘There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long-range risks of comfortable inaction.’ (J.F. Kennedy)