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BTO/WiCE 2024-2029: current and urgent

The Onderzoeksvisie Gezamenlijk Wateronderzoek voor 2024-2029 voor BTO/WiCE (BTO/WiCE Research Vision of the Collective Water Research for 2024-2029) presents a varied and current programme with innovation, valuable knowledge development and a focus on societal impact. ‘BTO’ is the Dutch abbreviation of the Joint Research Programme of KWR and the water utilities, while ‘WiCE’ stands for Water in the Circular Economy. The new BTO/WiCE programme for 2024-2029 began on 1 January 2024.

Drinking water utilities in the Netherlands and Belgium have a unique collaboration in the BTO/WiCE, which has been operational for a number of decades. In fact, in 2023 the water utilities celebrated the fortieth anniversary of this collective research programme for the drinking water sector. The major societal assignment, in a rapidly changing and increasingly complex world, requires answers to the collective challenges facing the drinking water sector. The BTO/WiCE programme generates the knowledge needed to meet these challenges. Solid, reliable and top-quality scientific knowledge, innovation and technology. The BTO/WiCE research also benefits the scientific and professional communities in the water sector, as well as society more generally.

Eight themes and WiCE

The BTO Thematic Research Programme comprises eight themes. In addition, there is the WiCE programme which is directed at the transition to a sustainable, circular economy, with a focus on water.

Four themes focus on the primary process of the drinking water utilities:
1.Sources, water system and nature
2. Treatment
3. Distribution
4. Customer

Three themes support the primary process:
5. Hydroinformatics
6. Biological Safety
7. Chemical Safety

The final theme concerns the (external) collaboration with the environment and stakeholders:
8. Environment and Transitions

WiCE works with partners outside the drinking water sector to develop knowledge in practice and apply it in new operational contexts:
9. WiCE: Water in the Circular Economy

Information about the BTO/WiCE programme is available on the BTO/WiCE Sharepoint site.

You will find a short outline of each of the themes below, or you can directly click through to access the comprehensive Research Vision of the collective water research for 2024-2029 on BTO/WiCE net. A short summary is also available in the brochure which was distributed during the BTO programme day last 8 June.

The primary process of the drinking water utilities: four themes

1. Sources, water system and nature

The Sources theme focuses on the sustainable safeguarding of the drinking water sources. This covers the freshwater, groundwater and surface water sources, but also encompasses alternative sources of brackish and saltwater or residual water streams. The research theme deals with threats and opportunities that exist for the production of drinking water, the quality of the water system, and the development and conservation of high-value natural environments.

The Sources theme research includes the development and optimisation of innovative abstraction technologies and management methods. Studies of scenarios for the protection of sources and for the restoration of water systems and nature are also part of the research activities. The theme contributes to the scientific underpinning of policy-making in the areas of drinking water, water systems and nature, from the local through to the European levels.

If you would like to learn more, you can read the Zesjarenplan Bronnen nu en in de toekomst  (Sources six-year plan: now and in the future) or contact the theme coordinator .

2. Treatment

Treatment is a theme that deals with the increased efforts that need to be made in the treatment of drinking water as a consequence of drought, salinisation and increasing contamination. Moreover, the Netherlands aspires to achieving full circularity in 2050, which also involves requirements in the construction of new, and in the management of existing, drinking water treatment facilities.

Research and innovation within the Treatment theme focus on improving the performance of treatment processes, to enable the continued production of safe drinking water at acceptable cost and in a sustainable manner. This also includes the exploration and development of circular, innovative and sustainable treatment concepts for existing and new water sources.

If you would like to learn more, you can read the Zesjarenplan Zuivering  (Treatment six-year plan) or contact the theme coordinator .

3. Distribution

Research within the Distribution theme focuses on a cost-effective and future-proof distribution network. The distribution network is crucial for the water quality, (supply) reliability and affordability of drinking water. The huge scale of the distribution network and the associated replacement costs, mean that adjustments can be slow. Important developments that can impact the adjustments include climate change, the energy transition, but also the increasing activity above- and underground.

If you would like to learn more, you can read the Zesjarenplan Distributie  (Distribution six-year plan) or contact the theme coordinator Karel van Laarhoven.

4. Costumer

The Customer theme consists of socio-scientific research on private customers. Both customer behaviour as well as customer diversity are studied, along with customer satisfaction and wishes. The research investigates the impact of the sustainability transition on customers, and means of stimulating sustainable behaviour and water conservation. The impact of digitalisation and transparency on the mutual trust are closely examined.

If you would like to learn more, you can read the Zesjarenplan Klant (Customer six-year plan) or contact the theme coordinator or .

Three themes support the primary process:

5. Hydroinformatics

The Hydroinformatics theme studies how applications of information and communications technology (ICT) can assist in tackling the challenges in the water sector. What is the significance of current ICT developments for the operational management of water utilities? The aim of the Hydroinformatics theme is to develop effective, data-driven knowledge and decision-making for the coming decades. The researchers conduct practice-oriented investigations into digital technologies that safeguard and manage systems and processes, but also into the development of new resilient systems.

If you would like to learn more, you can read the Zesjarenplan Hydroinformatica (Hydroinformatics six-year plan) or contact the theme coordinator .

6. Biological Safety

Biological Safety is a theme that plays a crucial role in drinking water safety and quality. The theme’s priority is research that helps protect consumers against pathogens, such as viruses, bacteria and protozoa, as well as so-called opportunistic pathogens, like Legionella pneumophila, which can multiply in drinking water distribution systems. This theme also includes means of responding to chemical contaminants, as well as the new threats related to antibiotic-resistance, climate change and societal changes. Besides research aimed at enabling assessments of the relevance of microbiological threats to public health, the Biological Safety theme also covers the associated operational management and policy choices.

If you would like to learn more, you can read the Zesjarenplan Biologische veiligheid  (Biological Safety six-year plan) or contact the theme coordinator .

7. Chemical Safety

The Chemical Safety theme investigates how the increase in chemical contaminants, ranging from arsenic to PFAS, impacts the drinking water quality and entails health risks. Due to changes in climate, demography, agricultural innovation and the energy transition, new substances will continue to have an impact on the drinking water provision. Water utilities face the ever more extensive task of timely recognising, assessing and predicting relevant threats to the chemical water quality, so that they can continue safeguarding the quality of drinking water into the future.

If you would like to learn more, you can read the Zesjarenplan Chemische veiligheid  (Chemical Safety six-year plan) or contact the theme coordinator .

The eighth theme focuses on the (external) collaboration with the environment and stakeholders:

8. Environment and Transitions

Environment and Transitions is a theme that is associated with a rapidly changing context. There is a steadily growing demand for the exercise of context management with a view to effectively protecting and anchoring the importance of drinking water. This theme builds on a scientific knowledge base with cases that are relevant to water utilities and drawn from the social and physical geography, as well as and public administration and organisational studies. The Environment and Transitions theme provides water utilities courses of action for the exercise of effective and well-considered context management within the complexity of large societal transitions.

If you would like to learn more, you can read the Zesjarenplan Omgeving en transities (Environment and Transitions six-year plan) or contact theme coordinator or .

WiCE works with partners outside the drinking water sector to develop knowledge in practice and apply it in new operational contexts:

9. Water in the Circular Economy (WiCE)

 

WiCE is an integrated research programme which works, in a cross-sectoral manner and in co-creation, on the transition to a sustainable, circular economy, with a focus on water. WiCE develops system knowledge about technical solutions, as well as transition knowledge that helps organisations to truly bring about change. The knowledge developed is applied to new practical situations and generates many insights. WiCE consists of five lines of research, each of which elucidates a particular aspect of the transition to a circular economy. There are local, national and (when appropriate) international WiCE projects.

If you would like to learn more, you can read the Zesjarenplan Water in de Circulaire Economie (WiCE) (Water in the Circular Economy (WiCE) six year plan) or contact the theme coordinators or .