Flanders' history in relation to water is rich. The first accounts of water management date back to the 12th century, when drainage, silting and subsidence problems could no longer be dealt with on a local level. In the following centuries, besides the management of water infrastructure, private networks for water supply were developed. This water supply was mainly present in the cities to fight the many fires of wooden structures, making it mainly a matter of supplying sufficient volume, regardless of quality. The use of water for sanitary purposes only started to take off in the mid-19th century, after hygiene became part of the national agenda, several epidemics decimated the population and the first bacteriological theories were formulated. Here, too, Belgium was one of the first to develop the infrastructure, strongly influenced by the British example. Mainly Brussels and Wallonia developed drinking water networks in their major cities. The general supply of drinking water in Flanders only really started in the 20th century. The connection to a sewage system - separated in sanitary and storm sewers, or not - was only realized in the last decades under the influence of the European Union.
Given this long history, it’s unsurprising that there is inherent knowledge and competence in developing and operating of water infrastructure such as ports, locks, bridges, drainage, dredging, water treatment plants, etc.
However, the world is not static, and so the demands placed on the water sector continue to evolve. In recent years, it are mainly environmental factors which set the tone for both problems and opportunities. The changes - whether caused or amplified by climate change - translate not only into further urbanization and more intense precipitation patterns, but also into items such as growing public awareness and globalization. These all contribute to the need for new and innovative approaches.
The issue of persistent droughts and subsequent downpours, for example, is relatively new for Flanders. Often, expertise in this area has already been acquired in other countries who have historically struggled with water shortages, or dealt with periodic monsoon rains. On the other hand, these countries are also experiencing dynamic circumstances, e.g. growing industrialization, the need for better infrastructure, new quality requirements imposed by the population, etc.
This blog was written by Alain Ducheyne from Cleantech Flanders.
This evolution creates opportunities in the export of Flemish knowledge. Additionally, foreign know-how can be applied here - often with some adaptation. We can use both local knowledge and the adaptation of foreign expertise as an inspiration for the development of completely new innovations or application areas. The 'international' aspect is a characteristic which is intrinsically present in the corporate culture of successful Cleantech Hero Watertechnology candidates. They build on past challenges, both within industry and academia, to create innovative solutions for Flanders and far beyond.