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Strengthening resilience and exploiting opportunities

Climate change and the water sector

Climate change presents huge challenges to the water sector. The Earth’s temperature is rising, precipitation patterns are more erratic and weather extremes more frequent. KWR conducts research into the consequences of climate change and the impact of adaptive measures. This helps the water sector strengthen its resilience and exploit climate change opportunities.

Climate change challenges

Over the last century, the average temperature in the Netherlands increased by about 1.5 ⁰C. Average precipitation levels rose by more than 20%, with notably higher levels in the winter. Extreme weather events also increased, in the form of heavier precipitation (more peak downpours), more frequent heat waves and periods of extreme drought. These developments will in all likelihood continue into the future.

The water sector faces a number of challenges as a result of climate change. There are concerns about the availability of drinking water sources, especially during dry summers and when river discharges are low. The stability of the drinking water distribution network and of the microbial water quality are under pressure. The question is whether environmental objectives, which are frequently laid down in law, are achievable. Or whether, with the changing climate, our water management is optimally organised to meet the needs of agriculture, nature and our drinking water provision. Moreover, the water sector is also expected to do its part in the drive to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. Applied research is needed to address all these challenges.

Extreme rainfall caused by climate change confronts agriculture with flooding.

Extreme rainfall caused by climate change confronts agriculture with flooding.

Water research, knowledge development and practical tools

KWR conducts research into the impact of climate change in all aspects of importance to the drinking water sector; and our development of practical tools helps to assess the effectiveness of adaptive measures.

  • Freshwater
    Research into the future availability of freshwater – groundwater and surface water – both in terms of quantity and quality. One example, concerns the impact of climate change on the water quality of the Rhine and Meuse rivers, insofar as the water provision is affected.
    Addressing water scarcity by reducing evaporation through nature management, reusing treated wastewater and making local sustainable use of fresh groundwater in salinated coastal areas (Freshkeeper, Freshmaker).
  • Water temperature
    Research into possible risks of the growth of pathogenic microorganisms in drinking water resulting from the higher temperature of water in distribution systems.
  • Water distribution networks
    Knowledge development about the possible impact of climate change on the functioning of water distribution networks, such as more frequent pipe fractures and greater pipe pressure resulting from higher temperatures.
  • Urban environment
    Research into strengthening the resilience of cities, both in terms of processing peak downpours and of limiting heat stress.
  • Nature and agriculture
    Development of ecohydrological knowledge and its translation into practical tools (e.g., simulation models, system analysis) to: predict the impact of climate change on nature values and agricultural crop yields; locate new biodiversity hotspots; and assess the effectiveness of adaptive measures.
Crops fail in southern European countries due to drought.

Crops fail in southern European countries due to drought.

Reacting appropriately to climate change

The water sector has a growing need for knowledge and insight to enable it to react appropriately to climate change. With its applied research into the consequences of climate change and the effectiveness of adaptive measures, KWR helps the water sector strengthen its resilience and exploit climate change opportunities.

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