"Probably sooner than expected, taps running dry and driest since 1833" was headline news in the past few weeks. It means we’re getting more dry spells earlier in the year than usual. Whether it’s civilians, or companies, water shortages affect us all. Water is an integral part of our economic activity.
Study 1 quantified the socio-economic importance of water for the economy on behalf of the Flanders Knowledge Center Water (VLAKWA). For example, the 15 most water-intensive industries account for 1/3 of the gross added value and for 1 in 5 of the jobs in Flanders. Despite a favourable evolution of water consumption and water efficiency in the business industry, 'Water stress' remains worryingly high.
Direct employment in the water-intensive industries amounts to 22.3%. In 2013, this percentage was still 16.7%.With an increase of 34%, employment in Flanders is increasingly dependent on the availability of water. It is clear that the impact of water scarcity goes far beyond domestic use. The most important water consumers (except cooling water) are the chemical industry and agriculture. Food, energy, the metal industry and coke and refinery products share a third place.
Without water there is no life. The past dry summers have shown that many measures are possible and necessary, in the short and long term; at the level of individuals or households as well as at the level of companies and governments. Conscious citizens adapt by cutting down on their water consumption. Or they use smart solutions such as water-saving showerheads.
The municipal, provincial and Flemish authorities also provide for adaptive measures such as pumping and spraying bans. However, assuming that increasing dry spells are signs of climate change, it should not stop there. In addition to adaptation in the short term, structural solutions for the longer term are needed: less surfacing, the construction of infiltration systems, so that more water can infiltrate instead of being led to the watercourses with little resistance. Or the construction of buffer basins, which will enable us to better cope with dry spells. Alternatively, the application of drought adapted crops in agriculture, so-called drought crops, can be a valuable contribution.
To safeguard the economic importance, innovative cleantech solutions for better (waste) water treatment and good water management are an important contribution. Circular use of water in urbanized Flanders is not new and has been contributing to the solution for some time now. Nevertheless, long-term structural solutions are desirable. And why not look for them in the cross-section with other challenges, for example in the field of energy. After all, there is an inextricable link between water for the generation of energy on the one hand and the energy used to pump, purify, transport, cool, heat, treat and drain water on the other hand. In this way, more synergies (with health, with mobility) may be worth exploring because they may offer unsuspected win-win opportunities.
Director Cleantech Flanders