Flemish agriculture has been hit hard due to the current drought. On several locations, alternate water resources are suggested like the melting water of an ice rink and pool water. It shows that Flanders is liable and with some creativity takes initiatives to limit the damage. Often these action – however well intentioned – turn out to be unhelpful because of the water quality or the available quantities are just the proverbial drop in the ocean.
Quantity and quality
The nature of the agricultural water shortages are both quanitative and qualitative. Good pH, suitable water conductivity and good bacterial quality are some of the necessary conditions to use the water for irrigation. Therefore, not all water is suitable for agriculture.
The required amount of water for agriculture and all water sensitive sectors in Flanders calls for a smart and organised cooperation procedures. After all, water is versatile and is used, among others, as coolant and as a means of transport. Only if other water actors agree to work together, initiatives can be launched to better respond to future droughts.
Structural and coordinated solutions
Vlakwa therefore advocates structural and coordinated solutions that, in the long run, protect agriculture against the effects of climate change. Given the major strategic, industrial and social importance of water for the intire Flemish economy, water availablility integrated at Flemish level, should be considered. Not only agriculture, but all sectors must take necessary actions in terms of efficiency, cooperation and reuse. This will create a robust water system that will ensure prosperity in Flanders and arm our region against climate shocks. This ambition was also expressed in vision note 2050 of the Flemish Government. Circul Flanders was launched in February of this year and offers interesting opportunities for companies who want to make their water use sustainable and circular. Vlakwa was appointed as partner for the section ‘circular water’.
Wastewater recycling in Ardooie
In the course of 2018, an irrigation network will be put into operation that will distribute the purified wastewater of frozen vegetables manufacturer Ardo, over 503 ha around their site in Ardooie. Ardo is one of Europe’s largest frozen vegetables manufacturers and consumes around 600.000 m³ water for the processing of its vegetables in Ardooie. In the production process, the water is used as efficiently as possible - and recycled where possible -, but still, every year, around 250.000 m³ purified wastewater is discharged at nearby Veldbeek. Because Ardo aims for circular water use, in 2011, the idea arised to no longer discharge this water, but to make it available for irrigation. Due to the far-reaching purification of the wastewater, the water is suitable for this purpose and the surrounding parcels can be watered with this alternative source of water. Together with Vlakwa and Inagro vzw, Ardo is working on the establishment of a farmers cooperative to unite the 48 participating farmers and ensure proper water distribution. However, not all food companies are located in the immediate vincinity of agricultural land and also the quality of the purified wastewater can vary considerably between food companies. This means that this form of water reuse can not just be copied, although it can provide useful inspiration. Also the turnaround time to meet all legal obligations means that a global solution is not for tomorrow.
Water reuse in Europe: many possibilities
Figures of, among others, the European Commission show high potential for water reuse in Europe. At present, around 1 billion cubic metres of wastewater is being reused in Europea. Studies suggest that in Europe, around 6 billion cubic metres of water is reusable. And islands with limited water availability such as Cyprus and Malta prove this, as these countries reuse 90 and 60% of their wastewater, respectively. It’s always darkest before the dawn.
Dirk Van der Stede - VLAKWA
 This is part of the F2AGRI project, funded by the Interreg V programme Flanders-Netherlands, the cross-border cooperation programme with financial support of the European Regional Development fund. More info: www.f2agri.eu.