ANCHOR: broad knowledge development about urban water reuse

In this project, we will study the application of water reuse in the built environment from technical, societal, governance and economic perspectives. The goal is to establish a picture of the impact of water reuse and provide guidance for application.

Urban water reuse

One element of the circular economy is the recovery of resources from waste water and the reuse of waste water. The urban environment is an interesting context in this respect because of the demand for water and drinking water, and the “production” of different qualities of waste water. Moreover, there are other challenges in the urban environment such as climate adaptation and the energy transition, and a huge construction agenda. This provides opportunities for the reassessment of the urban metabolism, which includes both the physical infrastructure and the substance flows that pass through it, as well as the societal and governance processes that are established in conjunction.

This development is a factor not only in the Netherlands but also in other countries in Northwest Europe. In response, KWR, working with Waternet and partners from Flanders, Germany and Sweden, formulated the ANCHOR project, which was approved by the EU INTERREG programme. The aim of that programme is to support interregional cooperation throughout Europe. WiCE (Water in the Circular Economy), the joint research programme of the water utilities, is co-financing ANCHOR (Anthropocene Nutrient and water Control for HOlistic resiliance and Recovery). Our goal is to develop cities that are resilient, circular, integrated, sustainable and social.

Governance and socio-economic aspects

ANCHOR comprises four work packages that, together, are intended to collect the knowledge needed to get transitions relating to urban water reuse on the move.

KWR is focusing on knowledge questions relating to the issue that water reuse at the district level not only requires the deployment of new technologies but also has an impact on governance and socio-economic aspects. A sound understanding of these aspects is a prerequisite for the success of the technologies used and it determines to a major extent which technologies can be used, and how.

In the case of aspects relating to society, the focus is – in broad terms – on the people involved with the technology in a range of ways, for example as users, managers, engineers or administrators. It is important to have an insight into how different stakeholders perceive and accept these technologies, and the extent to which changes in behaviour are desirable or necessary.

Governance is about how we organise the design, construction and operation of those systems. This involves looking at different organisational structures, as well as the approach to financing, the role played by different organisations and actors, and the legal frameworks that cover these areas (or not).

Economic aspects address the societal values that can be generated with water reuse, and the costs and efforts involved. In the case of societal values, we deliberately avoid a limited focus on the financial business case, and look at multiple values that are linked to the major transition agendas such as sustainability, climate adaptation, circularity, and the restoration of biodiversity and habitat.

In addition, KWR is contributing to the drafting of an energy balance for the urban water reuse metabolism. The other work packages concentrate on system knowledge relating to water reuse in the urban environment, the urban metabolism – what water goes in, what comes out – and the knowledge needed to scale up and transfer results throughout Europe.


The main deliverables produced by KWR’s contribution to this project consist of insights into the societal, governance and economic aspects of water reuse at the district level:

Social aspects – insight into:

  • the perception and experiences of end users, professionals and administrators with water reuse;
  • the behavioural change required by the development and application of water reuse;
  • the extent to which these systems are accepted by end users, professionals and administrators.

These insights are relevant for the water sector because the successful deployment of new technologies and practices is only possible if it is supported by the people involved.

Governance aspects – insight into:

  • organisational structures that are chosen (or established) in the different phases of the process (initiative, design, realisation, management and operation);
  • the financing structure and relevant legislation (national/European);
  • the roles of different parties (governments, citizens, businesses, water organisations) in the different phases (initiative, design, realisation, management and operation).

With these insights, the water sector can learn from how sustainable district developments have been organised. This helps to make better decisions in comparable situations.

Finally, the knowledge questions relating to the economic aspects of sustainable urban water management provide insights into the multiple values created by water reuse. This is relevant for the water sector because water reuse is not valuable in directly financial terms but in terms of the broader benefits for society as a whole. Understanding this societal value provides the necessary basis for the investment efforts required.

KWR is providing useful knowledge in the ANCHOR project with respect to the urban metabolism in order to acquire a greater understanding of the energy potential of local water systems. This can directly help to improve energy efficiency at a given location. Because of the European nature of the project, lessons are also learnt about what is or isn’t possible for water facilities in other countries with respect to recovering and exploiting the energy applications. For Dutch drinking water companies, this is useful knowledge that can also serve as inspiration for the application of the most effective and smartest technologies in Dutch projects.