Droughts and water scarcity will become “the new normal” in Flanders. In recent years a lot of efforts went into different measures, but quite often their effectiveness has not been quantified. The Turquoise project will focus on measures that have a high potential for upscaling.
Recent summers have been the driest of the last decades. There is ample evidence that similar or intense droughts and water scarcity will become “the new normal” in the future in Flanders. In addition, climate change increases rainfall extremes, which results in more floods. To achieve a future-proof water landscape, a combined management of periods of ‘too much water’ and ‘too little water’ is crucial. We need to sustainably and safely preserve water when it is available, and use it to overcome periods of water scarcity.
With the Blue Deal, Flemish policy is rapidly evolving towards such integrated water management. Still, current practices do not succeed in significantly reducing the risks. This is where the new Turquoise project comes in. Turquoise is a new FWO-SBO funded research project, that aims to address the key challenges of the water management through effective blue-green adaptation.
Maps for implementation
Jan Staes (UAntwerpen, coordinator of the project): “Typical blue-green solutions such as infiltration ponds, wetland restoration, swales, buffer strips, mulching or re-meandering are claimed to be effective against droughts and floods. But for many of these measures, their “effectiveness” has not been quantified. It appears that a lot of the effectiveness, really depends on where they are implemented. So we will develop guidelines and maps for implementation. The second big question is whether such measures will be able to prevent that a meteorological drought (lack of rain) develops into a hydrological droughts (low groundwater levels and river flow).”
The past years, a lot of effort was put in the development of an “assessment framework for priority water use”. That framework was developed to make more objective decisions during hydrological droughts and helps to better allocate water resources to minimize ecological, social and economic damage. This project focusses on the solutions to prevent such harsh decisions. We cannot control the weather, but we can make better use of precipitation surplus by storing this in soils, aquifers and wetlands.
Jan Staes: “There is scarce knowledge on how to optimally combine all these measures on a larger scale. Within TURQUOISE we will focus on measures that have a high potential for upscaling.”
Additionally, most initiatives are currently driven from a single sectoral viewpoint, leading to missed synergies and opportunities. This results in fragmented visions and implementations, and ultimately a non-resilient water landscape. If the Blue Deal wants to achieve optimal implementation, we need to improve the design of blue-green adaptation strategies, but also facilitate the planning and implementation process.
Jeroen De Waegemaker (ILVO, project partner): “That is why we explicitly also address a socio-economic component to quantify investment needs, costs and benefits. TURQUOISE will thus be able to assess how we can achieve a multi-level governance integration, endorsed by all stakeholders.”
Various pilot cases
Patrick Willems (KULEUVEN, project partner): “There are two crucial questions to be answered. “How long will the retained and infiltrated water remain available within the water system? And obviously, the next question is “how much of such measures we really need to prevent hydrological droughts”? How can we really make a difference at the catchment scale? For that we need hydrological models that can incorporate these measures. While this may sound trivial, it is not. It is a huge challenge to implement such small-scale measures within catchment models.”
Jan Cools, research manager at IMDO (UAntwerpen): “Various pilot cases were identified during the proposal preparation, covering different subsystems of the water landscape and involving different sectors. At the same time, the stakeholder landscape was consulted, ensuring eagerness to collaborate. This will be crucial to achieve scientifically sound methodologies that are also societally achievable.”
There is a high level of support and engagement from various organizations. They were asked to propose pilot cases during the preparation stage. The next step is to select the most promising pilots.
Turquoise is financed through the FWO-SBO project scheme, and will run from 2021-2024. The partnership is composed of:
Jan Staes and Patrick Meire ( Ecosystem Management Research Group, Global Change Ecology Center, UAntwerpen)
-Steven Van Passel (Environmental Economics research team)
Jan Cools ( Institute for sustainable development, UAntwerpen)
Patrick Willems & Vincent Wolfs ( Hydraulics and Geotechnics Unit, KULeuven)
Jan Vanderborght is professor for soil physics and soil remediation at the division of soil and water management of the department of earth and environmental sciences at the KU Leuven.
-Sarah Garré, Els Belmans and
Jeroen De Waegemaker ( Social Sciences Unit, ILVO)