“The value of water: towards a water-smart society”, a new publication by Water Europe

Water Europe is a European platform which aims to represent the whole value-chain of water and to achieve a European Water-Smart Society. Recently, they released a very interesting and insightful publication about new societal trends and potential new technologies that can enable this Water-Smart Society. From REWAISE we bring you a summary of this document.

The main goal of the publication is to project a future of “comprehensive water security, sustainability and resilience for all societal functions, and of full environmental protection”. Water Europe encourages all the different stakeholders to cooperate and be involved in the sustainable governance of our water system to meet the main needs of the European continent’s water system of the future:

  • Avoidance of water scarcity and pollution of European ground water
  • Restoration of biodiversity
  • Circular economy
  • A resilient and robust water system
  • Prosperity of the European water-dependant businesses

All these needs are included in a core value: the value of water, with water resilience, water security and water sustainability associated as the three key objectives towards a Water-Smart Society.

With these goals in mind, Water Europe intends to reduce by 50% the demand pressure over groundwater and surface water resources and, therefore, Europe’s water scarcity. This transition will be already developing by 2030 with cities, organisations and industries organising Water-Oriented Living Labs (WOLLS) and implementing the solutions of the future. A water-smart society will highly contribute to Europe’s Green Deal and to several SDGs, especially 6 Clean water and sanitation, but also 3 Good health and well-being; 11 Sustainable cities and communities; 13 Climate action; 14 Life below water and 15 Life on land.

The good news for Europe is that most of its countries would only need an investment of 0.5% of their GDP to achieve a sustainable water management, whereas other countries need to invest more than 4%. The industrial sector in Europe is one of the main water consumers in Europe and needs to urgently manage water scarcity.

Regarding the quality of water, only 40% of European surface water bodies achieve good or better ecological status, mainly because of urban, industrial, and agricultural pollution, which impact water availability. Another concern is the need of more research to identify the chemicals that make surface water inadequate, as thousands of chemicals are used for different purposes in several sectors and could be present in this water body. Therefore, this is an issue for Europe’s water security.

Despite the differences between the north and the south of Europe, in terms of water and climate, the consequences of climate change and its foreseeable extreme weather events will affect both regions in a similar way. Consequently, Europe needs to tackle this problem through common solutions.

Water Europe sees these challenges ahead as opportunities for society, technology, and businesses.

A bright and exciting future for Europe’s water system

To achieve water security, sustainability and resilience, Water Europe proposes 5 main innovation concepts:

1.Circular Water: circular water system that minimises water losses, captures and exploits value in water, and fosters water security, sustainability, and resilience.

The main goal is reducing the water pollution, enabling the recycling of over 30% of water in Europe and close water loops by almost 100% in some areas for important water users. This will be achieved through:

  • Water treatment innovations
  • Redesign of the water infrastructure
  • User-oriented management tools

2. Multiple Waters: incorporate a wide range of water sources ad qualities (groundwater and surface water, rainwater, brackish water, brine, grey water, black water, recycled water) into a water-secure, resilient, and sustainable water system.

A holistically integrated system will be pursued by managing multiple water sources. This means that not only surface and groundwater will be used, but also other alternative water sources such as rainwater saline water, brines or used water. In this sense, storage, treatment, and distribution of the appropriate types of water are key to achieve a 30% of total water demand coming from these and other alternative water sources. Green roofs or cost-efficient desalination systems are some of the innovations for this holistic system of multiple waters.

3. Digital Water: the extreme interconnectivity of people, devices and processes can be harnessed to create networks capable of monitoring the water system, generating valuable data for innovative decision-support systems at different governance levels.

Digital technologies are permeating more and more in society, industries, and organisations, converting them into fully connected. Water Europe predicts a future where remote sensing, Artificial Intelligence, machine learning and 5G or 6G technology will provide valuable insights into almost all aspects of the water system.  As a result, the water sector will be fully connected, almost in real time, and it will be easier to monitor all aspects and make safe and responsible decisions at different levels. Cybersecurity will play a key role in this water-smart society.

4.Inclusive Water: establish a water system whose governance balances the interests of all stakeholders in its design, management, and maintenance.

The main idea of this innovative concept is the collaboration between different stakeholders for a participative decision-making and to achieve transparency. Digitalisation is key in this sense, to foster smart water users and managers, and to boost policies as well as climate change adaptation and mitigation plans based on these data. Open Science, Open Data and Open Innovation will make Europe a global leader in water technologies and new cost-effective water treatment technologies, as well as in advanced irrigation and crop-growing technologies.

The involvement of multiple stakeholders will also be necessary to implement Water-Oriented Living Labs (WOLLs) in different regions to test new solutions in the European model for the Water-Smart Society.

5.Resilient Water: create a resilient and reliable hybrid grey and green water system, designed to withstand severe external and internal shocks without compromising essential functions.

Tools like climate and water forecast maps, Big Data, model-based simulation, and virtual reality will support economic activities, growth, jobs, and nature. In addition, they will help supporting decisions for the management systems and long-term investments and to ensure the resilience and adaptation of the water management ecosystem.

Climate change and emergency plans will be implemented in most cities by 2030 and the water infrastructure will be integrated by human-built grey and green infrastructure, as well as natural green assets – such us rivers, aquifers, green belts, infiltration areas and natural storage capacity –, will ensure the sustainability of multiple ecosystem services and its protection from extreme water-related events.

According to Water Europe, the true potential value of water has not yet been fully explored or exploited. All the mentioned measures and associated future technologies combined can leverage the Water-Smart Society that Europe needs in terms of economy, sustainability, inclusion, and resilience. 

The objectives of Water Europe are aligned with the goals that REWAISE aims to achieve during and after the project execution.