Water is precious. It is so precious that it is gradually becoming unthinkable for us to allow waste water to drain away just like that. Europe wants to strongly encourage  smart use of water. In the European Horizon 2020 B-WaterSmart project, 6 Flemish partners are working together with 30 partners from various other European countries to boost the transformation to a water smart economy and society in the European coastal regions. B-WaterSmart is financed by the EU programme "Horizon 2020".

Over the next few years, the Flemish partners in this project will focus on two fields of research: on the one hand, the use of alternative water sources and, on the other hand, the collection, treatment and use of rainwater via a smart collection system. 

Alternative water sources

This research project focuses on the De Blankaart water production centre in Diksmuide. The Water Group, Aquafin and KWR are studying which treatment steps can be used to treat treated household wastewater (effluent) for the production of drinking water. "The project will identify the technologies needed for this with a focus on safety and microbial risks. This will be done through a flexible pilot plant at Aquafin's wastewater treatment plant in Woumen," says Birte Raes of Aquafin. The direct use of effluent has the advantage that there is no risk of additional pollution on the way to the water treatment plant, and that there is a constant supply of water, even in periods of drought.

Research will also be carried out into how current drinking water production can be optimised via a water-efficient separation technology using membranes. "The De Blankaart water production centre is regularly confronted with intake problems because the water quality in the river is insufficient for use in the drinking water production plant. We often experience too high salt concentrations (summer), nitrates (winter) or pesticides," says Han Vervaeren of De Watergroep. "With this project, we want to add an extra purification step and test it to make the existing installation more robust. We are checking whether membrane technology is sufficient to remove these contaminants".

Smart control of rainwater

The second research project will be carried out in the Mechelen region, where the city of Mechelen, together with Aquafin, VITO and the Experimental Station for Vegetable Production, will investigate how rainwater from a separate sewage system can be used optimally for agriculture and horticulture. "A buffer basin will be intelligently controlled in this respect. The water will then be treated so that it is ready for infiltration or irrigation on the nearby plots," says Joris De Nies of the Research Station for Vegetable Production. "The buffer basin will be equipped with a smart control system so that flooding can be prevented on the one hand and the water is used optimally on the other. "Smart agricultural solutions are valuable not only for large-scale farms, but also for short-chain farmers, close to the urban environment. With B-WaterSmart, Mechelen ensures that rainwater remains available for agriculture. This concept fits perfectly within the vision of the rainwater plan and thus directly supports the local food strategy". explains Mechelen alderman for Agriculture Koen Anciaux.

"Working on better water management is the engine to make Mechelen future-proof. Giving space to water via softeners and wadis - a ditch filled with gravel and sand - offers opportunities to make the city greener and protects us from dehydration. This is also necessary to keep our valuable wetlands wet. Smart water buffering, for example in buffer basins, can deal with the need for water in times of drought and protect us from flooding during heavy rainfall. Mechelen, in the middle of a river area, was created by the grace of the water. We are now once again 100% opting to embrace this water as a carrier of our nature and urban fabric," says Patrick Princen, alderman for Public Works and Nature and Green Development in Mechelen.

"If we want to do something to deal with water sustainably, we can only do so if we work together with various partners and look for innovative solutions," says Bastiaan Notebaert van Vlakwa. "That's why this project also focuses on cooperation with the various stakeholders in each region."

"We need a smart regional analysis of the various water demanders and water users," says Geertje Pronk of KWR.

"The aim is to find and promote smart solutions that address multiple problems and/or allow water demanders and providers to work together efficiently in a regional context.

For this European Horizon 2020 project, Vlakwa, Aquafin, De Watergroep, Proefstation voor de Groenten Groieten, VITO, KWR and the City of Mechelen are working together with the regional stakeholders.

About the H2020 project B-WaterSmart

The water-smart approach is used to create new business models for the circular economy. To this end, six regions are brought together as living labs: Alicante (Spain), Bodø (Norway), Flanders (Belgium), Lisbon (Portugal), East Frisia (Germany) and Venice (Italy). These living labs are complementary in terms of scale, challenges and type of users and sectors. They will strengthen each other through knowledge exchange and together ensure replication and scaling up through a user network. In addition, an approach involving all stakeholders will be used for co-creation and the implementation of solutions, with attention to governance, regulation and policy. Various technologies for water reuse and, where possible, for reuse of other raw materials (energy, nutrients) are discussed.

For more information contact Bastiaan Notebaert at Vlakwa (bn@vlakwa.be +3214335025).

+32 14 33 50 25