Double inaugural lecture by KWR researchers at Utrecht University
On Thursday, 24 April, Annemarie van Wezel and Kees van Leeuwen give a double inaugural lecture at Utrecht University (UU). The 2 principal scientists at KWR are professors at the Copernicus Institute of the UU’s Faculty of Geosciences. Van Wezel, Professor of Water Quality and Health, addresses new technologies designed to discover and monitor risky emerging contaminants in water. Van Leeuwen, Professor of Water Management and Urban Development, stresses the importance of a sustainable water cycle in cities.
“We would need to further generalize the case-by-case risk assessment approach to new technologies”
In our environment, drinking water practically always and everywhere satisfies all the legal provisions. The law sets the quality standards that drinking water, wastewater, surface water and groundwater must meet. But, because of the “chemification” of our society, there are tens of thousands of chemical compounds being sold and used. Water quality standards exist for only a couple of hundred of them. These are, for the most part, “yesterday’s problem substances”, about which we know quite a lot. “Today’s problem substances, and certainly those of tomorrow, are a more interesting evaluation and management challenge,” according to Van Wezel. New technological developments, such as nanotechnology and shale gas drilling, can present risks to the water cycle.
Van Wezel states that the developers of new technologies focus a lot on functionality and little on obviating their negative consequences. “How great it would be if we could further generalize the case-by-case risk assessment approach to new technologies: an over-arching risk-banding tool for those new technologies that might have an impact on water and the environment.” Risk banding combines risk assessment with risk-control strategies. Van Wezel’s optimism is rooted in the experience that, once the risks become well understood, technologies are nearly always developed that generally remove these risks. A good understanding and articulation of environmental risks, as it were, creates a market for environmental technologists and the associated businesses.
Professor Jasper Griffioen – active at UU and TNO, and a participant in the 4-year “Shale Gas and Water” research programme which starts in late 2014 – subscribes to Van Wezel’s remarks about risk banding. “As a society, we can’t lock down the subsurface; we have to implement new technologies in a sustainable fashion. This can be done perfectly well by following the precautionary principle, and incorporating risk-evaluation tools into the licensing process.”
“The City Blueprints research also points to the transformations that are needed”
Water in the city
In his lecture, Van Leeuwen addresses the subject of water in the city. Over the last 3 years, he has developed a method at KWR to assess the sustainability of urban water cycles: City Blueprints. The method has already been applied to more than 45 cities worldwide. Another element has also been introduced, namely, the Blue City Index (BCI), which is the arithmetic mean of 24 indicators for a city. The cities with the highest BCIs are those with ambitious management and engaged populations, and are located in rich countries (countries with high GNPs) and effective governments. These tools have also been scaled up to become an Action Group within the framework of the European Commission’s European Innovation Partnership on Water (EIP Water).
Van Leeuwen observes that cities can learn a lot from each other – assuming they make their knowledge available and actively share it. The cities can then form the bases upon which to work towards solutions to the water governance crisis; a crisis that is manifested today primarily in cities, and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future. Professor Peter Driessen works closely with Van Leeuwen at UU. He also believes that water plays a key role in urban development. “Not only from the perspective of public health and sustainability, but also in terms of economic development. The City Blueprint research not only shows how cities perform with regard to sensible water management, but also points to the transformations that they need to make. Then you touch on urban water governance, a field in which UU conducts a great deal of research. The collaboration with KWR leads not only to new insights, but also to interesting and interdisciplinary lines of research.”
© 2017 KWR Watercycle Research Institute
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Annemarie van Wezel
Kees van Leeuwen