Opening speech by provincial governor Cathy Berx highlights need for robust water system.

Water is vital for all life on earth, lack of water kills. That drinkable water is no easy matter, we know by now. Provincial governor of Antwerp Cathy Berx carries a strong message: if we do not work on water, we will not only mortgage our economy, but all life. "As long as water was plentiful, cheaply available and not too frequent, too powerful and abundant, we hardly gave it a second thought. Water and our use of it were self-evident," she says.

The opening speech she gave to provincial councillors on 2 December has become a comprehensive document of exactly 300 pages. For it, the governor consulted experts who each gave their views and input in a chapter of this document. Inge Genné of the VITO WaterClimateHub, took the opportunity to address the importance of circular water use.

"Circular water use is an essential part of a sustainable and robust water system. Success factors are based on quality assurance, creating a balance between multiple users, active stakeholder involvement and support from all actors. The buffering and reuse of water is a local matter, the availability of spatially explicit data is needed to select the best scenarios and replication options. Forward-looking circular scenarios focus on clusters or hubs (business parks, cities, ports, developers, events, etc.) where smart water networks are built. In a drought context, the economic feasibility of implementing circular water use needs to include non-tangible costs in addition to investment and operational costs. This includes both costs of future legislation (e.g. PFAS, pesticides, ...) and the avoided risks of uncertain water supply (cost of not having water)," writes Inge Genné.

The governor identifies the issues of concern. "Climate change, weather extremes and the impact on our living environment that are the increasingly tangible result of it are not sparing our province either," she says, stressing the need for a healthy, robust and balanced water system. "Between policy visions, ambitions, memoranda, programmes and projects and real difference on the ground - despite untold efforts and actions - there are still often practical obstacles, often legitimate interests, painful choices as well as the need for sufficient manpower and a lack of strategic land positions."

In the speech, she shows via numerous examples where important steps have already been taken in the province. She clarifies that Antwerp, together with Limburg, is the province that is closest to the target of the Water Framework Directive. And although the province of Antwerp is in pole-position to meet that target, more is needed. A long list of recommendations and tasks should ensure that everyone knows exactly which path the governor has in mind. In doing so, she is not blind to reality. "What troubles us is what matters most: the unruliness of reality," she argues.

That this has become a particularly lengthy document, she also knows. "The text of the speech has become much longer than initially planned. After all, there is so much to say about water that silence is difficult. What the authors and I hope above all is that we made the following insight: we actually know what is needed to make Flanders a truly 'Resilient Waterland'.

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