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Doctoral research helps cities to use water smartly

Enough water and dry feet in the city

With summer in view, many people are wondering whether it will be as hot and dry as last year. And what about those cloudbursts – can our drains cope or will the streets soon be flooded on a regular basis? Cities around the world are facing major challenges. Within 40 years two people out of three will be living in an urban environment, altogether some 6.4 billion citizens of the world. To cope with this growth and to prepare for climate change, cities must adapt their water infrastructure, waste water treatment and spatial layout. But how? KWR researcher Stef Koop developed three tools that cities can use to gain insight into their water management performance and governance capacity. On 25 March he will defend his dissertation at the University of Utrecht.

Many cities are striving for water-wise management: they are wondering how to use water smartly. But even those cities that are already pursuing an integrated approach to the entire water cycle – and are for instance confronted with cloudbursts or the reuse of water – are encountering practical difficulties. Where to start and what is feasible? Koop and colleagues from KWR and the University of Utrecht found that cities lack the practical means to achieve their targets. Koop developed a set of measurable indicators that cities can use to assess their water management performance and governance capacity. In this way a city can both identify its own areas of concern and compare itself with and learn from other cities. Globally 74 cities have already been analysed using this methodology. More than 40 of them appear in the Urban Water Atlas for Europe, published by the European Commission which, just like the Dutch government, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the United Nations, has water as its top priority.

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Promotie van Stef 4 (Rick van der Burg)
Promotie van Stef 1 (Rick van der Burg)
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Promotie van Stef 12 (Rick van der Burg)

Your city charted in three steps

The three tools used by Koop and his colleagues are the Trends and Pressures Framework (TPF), the City Blueprint Framework (CBF) and the Governance Capacity Framework (GCF). Each tool covers a different aspect of water management. Cities can use the Trends and Pressures Framework to assess their social, ecological and financial circumstances which are separated from water management. These circumstances often provide opportunities to improve water management performance or they form gaps that need to be bridged. The City Blueprint Framework provides a picture of urban water cycle performance: does the city recover raw materials and energy from waste water, how climate-robust are buildings, etc? The Governance Capacity Framework, finally, shows whether the governance conditions needed for sustainable water management exist in the city. They include ambitious but at the same time realistic targets, and smart monitoring methods. Koop: “By applying the tools globally, we can see that cities with a high governance capacity perform better in the field of water management and are better prepared for possible disasters. Smart policy monitoring and evaluation appear important in this regard, because they help in realising the ambitions.”

Levels of water wisdom

Thanks to the City Blueprint Framework – applied to 45 cities worldwide – Koop gained insight into the main characteristics of good urban water management. Five levels of progressive performance can be observed, ranging from cities without primary water supplies to water-wise cities. Improving the sustainability of the urban water cycle often is a process of problem shifting. Cities that improve their drinking water supply take insufficient account of waste water treatment, leading to soil, groundwater and surface water pollution. The same is true at the other end of the spectrum: cities that use water efficiently and treat waste water well usually also have a high population density, with parks, ponds and green spaces having to make way for buildings. These cities have solved excessive water consumption and pollution well, but are ill-prepared for increasing heat and downpours. With Koop’s tools – and the city-to-city exchange of knowledge – a city can improve its sustainability of the urban water cycle in a quick, effective and cost-efficient way. Or, as Koop puts it: “Good treatment starts with a good diagnosis.”

Role of Europe and Watershare

Two European projects contributed to this doctoral thesis. The development and application of the City Blueprint Framework was an important part of the European BlueSCities project. The Governance Capacity Framework was developed as part of the European POWER project and applied in 15 cities worldwide. The tools have been made available to the international community on conclusion of the projects, and are incorporated into the Watershare Toolsuite.

 

Figure: The bluer the better. The researchers have assessed the capacity of the city of Utrecht to govern flood risks related to downpours. The indicators are scored on a 5-step scale ranging from very encouraging (++) to very limiting (–). Like many Dutch municipalities, Utrecht is relatively vulnerable for downpours. Such a downpour cannot be drained adequately. The Governance Capacity Framework shows the key improvement options: from stakeholder engagement, visionary agents of change and policy instruments.

Thesis defence ceremony

Date and time: 25 March 2019 16:15 – 17:00
Location: Academiegebouw, Domplein 29 in Utrecht
Doctoral candidate: Steven (Stef) Hendrik Andreas Koop
Doctoral thesis: Towards water-wise cities: Global assessment of water management and governance capacities
Doctoral thesis supervisors: Prof. Dr. P.P.J. Driessen and Prof. Dr. C.J. van Leeuwen
Doctoral thesis co-supervisor: Dr. C. Dieperink