22 March 2019

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? 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.

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?

Need for practical instruments

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.

Stef Koop

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.

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. 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.”

The bluer the better. Like many Dutch municipalities, Utrecht is relatively vulnerable for downpours. The governance capacity framework shows the key improvement options.

Levels of water wisdom

Thanks to the City Blueprint Framework it became clear that 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.”