At more than half of the measuring points for both groundwater and surface water, water levels were low to very low on 21 March this year1. The impact of water shortages is very clear – not only do they affect agriculture (poorer harvests), our drinking water supply and the companies that need water for their processes and their transport, but they also affect nature itself2. Using water more sustainably is a must and that is the area in which the start-up, Werfwater, wants to make its3 contribution.
Bringing together the supply of and demand for pumped groundwater
Werfwater came into being in the spring of 2020, at a time when literally no water was coming out of the tap in the town of Overijse, but groundwater pumped up on construction sites was flowing directly into the sewerage system.
On almost every construction site, the temporary pumping of groundwater is necessary to keep the excavation pit stable while work gets under way. As Arne Van Baelen, the founder of Werfwater explains, “The groundwater that is pumped up – the drainage water – is usually discharged directly via the sewerage system or via waterways, ends up in the sea and is therefore basically lost. On a construction site, more than 10,000 litres of water are often pumped up every hour. What we want to do is encourage the reuse of that water.”
To that end, Werfwater developed a digital platform where construction companies and local authorities can announce which building sites are pumping up groundwater. Citizens, farmers, but also, for example, the Parks service of a municipality or city can go to that site to collect water free of charge.
90% of drainage water unused nowadays
“It is estimated that, nowadays, less than 10% of all dewatering operations in Flanders make use of circular principles such as return dewatering and/or the reuse of the pumped up groundwater,” explains Arne Van Baelen. “Werfwater sets out to act as a knowledge partner and help companies that pump up groundwater measure the flow, measure how much water is being pumped up and map out and digitalise the pumping up operations more accurately... First and foremost, we aim to pump water as efficiently as possible and therefore to pump up as little water as possible. Secondly, we want to reuse the water that is pumped up there or re-infiltrate it back into the ground.” Together with Aquafin and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Werfwater has joined the HERBRONNEN project. The project aims to identify the technical, financial and policy problems that are currently impeding circular source dewatering and to provide clear solutions for them.
Growth based on practical experience
Werfwater has also launched a test project in collaboration with the City of Antwerp to examine how the city's services can make use of the drainage water from various sites.
Arne Van Baelen: “No two dewatering operations are the same. In addition to the knowledge we acquire from studies such as HERBRONNEN, the practical experience and the input we receive from drainage companies, construction companies and filtration companies, etc. are very important to enable us to develop as a start-up. We examine the issues put forward by the various actors and respond to them in the form of innovative solutions. We are constantly seeking partners to innovate together in a sustainable way.”
1 Source: Flemish Environment Agency
2 Source: https://trends.knack.be/economie/beleid/vlaanderen-verdroogt-we-moeten-gewoon-beter-omgaan-met-ons-water/article-longread-1722871.html
3 Werfwater was born out of a collaboration between Switchrs (a strategic innovation agency for social impact and circular economy) and Lemon (which specialises in building web platforms and mobile applications).