Flanders will be confronted with structural water shortages in the future. This is demonstrated by figures from the Flemish Environment Agency. To tackle this challenge, the Flemish Government wants to encourage government institutions, individuals and businesses to deal rationally with water. VITO’s Water Knowledge Centre (Vlakwa) shows cities and municipalities how to evolve into ‘Water-Wise Cities’.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal to make clean water and sanitation available to all is not just a challenge for developing countries. Arid summers also await us here in Flanders. In its Vision 2050, the Flemish Government places the emphasis on behavioural change – in addition to technological innovation – to avoid structuralwaste, to buffer the water supply and to protect groundwater resources.

Closing water cycles

Cities and municipalities wishing to reduce their water consumption can call upon the services of Vlakwa, an independent department within VITO since 2016. Dirk Halet of Vlakwa: “We want to make cities and municipalities Water-Wise Cities that arm themselves against water scarcity and use water smartly. Water-wise cities and municipalities use their water to the full by closing the cycle or by recovering essential raw materials from wastewater. They also invest in green infrastructure that can both hold back and store water. Finally, they encourage individuals and businesses to be more aware when dealing with water.”

Saving 120 000 euros

Vlakwa’s approach? “We work in two phases. First we want to convince cities and municipalities to focus on water efficiency. Using a checklist, participating municipalities can examine ways they can avoid water waste. These often are minor measures. For example, several municipalities discovered that their water softeners were poorly adjusted or that the automatic refill systems for rainwater wells were not working. In addition, staff members of the technical department are given the opportunity to take practical courses on water management.” Vlakwa’s guidance programme yields substantial savings. “Municipalities will see their water consumption drop by 30 per cent, which for small municipalities quickly amounts to savings of 6 000 to 21 000 euros on their water bill. Large cities even save up to 120 000 euros.” There is also international interest in the guidance programme. The OECD picked the project for its new online portal with stories about water management, which it will present at the World Water Forum in March. Close look at water management After their participation, Vlakwa tries to convince cities and municipalities to also tackle other aspects of water management. “This is phase two. We then carry out a City Blueprint Scan, developed by the Dutch applied water research institute KWR. The water management of the city or municipality is analysed on the basis of 25 indicators. These indicators include water quality, wastewater treatment, infrastructure, waste and climate adaptation.” Sixty cities around the world have already received their City Blueprint.

Our ambition is to make Kortrijk a climate (neutral) city. Which is why we are committed among other things to sustainable water management.

Bert Herrewyn
Councillor for Climate

Kortrijk takes the lead with City Blueprint-Scan

How well does Kortrijk score in the area of water management? To answer this, the West Flemish city carried out a City Blueprint Scan. On the basis of the results, Kortrijk, together with Vlakwa and VITO, drew up a concrete action plan for more sustainable water management. When Vlakwa was looking for a partner to test the digital City Blueprint, the city that is home to the knowledge centre applied immediately. “Our ambition is to make Kortrijk a climate (neutral) city. Which is why we are committed among other things to sustainable water management,” explains Bert Herrewyn, alderman for Climate.

The result of the City Blueprint? “Our score of 6.1 – like that of Jerusalem, Lyon, Melbourne and Leeuwarden – was average. We do well in terms of water availability, but we need to do more to encourage individuals to be more aware when using water.”

Based on the results, Vlakwa and VITO presented the city with a number of action points for the short and long term. “We are committed to increasing water efficiency. In addition, we want to arm our city against climate change by drawing up a rainwater plan and creating more green zones and permeable pavements. We will also be investing in the municipal sewer system. Finally, we encourage our residents to use fewer pesticides. We hope with these efforts to become Belgium’s first Water-Wise City.