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Le 16/03/2022

Nature Based Solutions for Water Issues (3rd Workshop of the NEB Seminar)

Access to water is a strategic global issue. It is a vital element for the population and an indispensable vector of development for the territories.

However, in a context of climate change and urban growth, demand continues to risewhen the resource remains finished, or is likely to decline, creating strong tensions in the future. The latest IPCC report highlighted that “within the next ten, twenty to thirty years, the European territory will experience a significant increase in droughts, the intensity, frequency and duration of which will increase”. At the same time, heavy rains are becoming more and more frequent as witnessed by recent flooding in several parts of Europe.

In the light of these findings and forecasts, water management challenges are numerous. They cover both the accessibility and availability of resources, the control of consumption, the management of climate shocks (bought periods of flooding and water stress), the promotion of new modes of transport and the response to growing social expectations. Although vital, water is at the same time a lever of economic development, a vector of risk, a major environmental challenge and support for multiple activities (economic, touristic, urban, ...).

Faced with these major challenges, it is important to radically change our water management models, many of which are still based on the logics of several decades ago when there were almost no shortages and where (fast) water evacuation was often the main concern. For a long time water has indeed been considered as a threat in urban areas, many waterways have been channelled and partially covered.

Water-related approaches have changed over the last 20 years. Innovative solutions are multiplying in development projects through the promotion of infiltration, storage, but also the recovery of waterways, which become formidable multifunctional supports for projects and activities as well as extraordinary markers for the upgrade of urban spaces. In the meantime, investments are made in the economic and agricultural sectors to reduce consumption and to innovate in water reuse. Advanced techniques can even transform wastewater into drinking water and extract nutrients or energy sources from it.

Given the scale of the challenges facing our territories and the fragility of the systems that climate shocks reveal, it is crucial to amplify and accelerate these innovative approaches. At the same time, water management should be addressed on the appropriated scale, preferably as close as possible to its natural cycle, which requires articulation between all water managers and users, as well as consideration of water interactions with other resources, such as soil and energy.

Consequently, regarding to water two main challenges for local authorities are:

  • Resource protection and environmental risk management by creating resilient territories through the search for cross-sectoral cooperation and synergies between different stakeholders economic, agricultural, tourism, planners, citizens, artist, etc.);
  • The valorisation of waterways through nature-based solutions while strengthening their capacities as support for activities and projects.

Relations with the objectives of the NEB and prospects for cooperation and funding

The European Union has been working on water protection for several decades. In 2000 the Water Framework Directive (WFD) was adopted, already marking the shift from a ‘use-oriented’ approach to a conservation approach. Other directives have since followed, in particular:

  • the December 2006 Groundwater Pollution Prevention and Control Directive
  • the December 2008 directive on environmental quality standards in the field of water

More recently:

  • In 2020 the Drinking Water Directive was revised as a follow-up to a European Citizens’ Initiative “Water a Human Right”;
  • A directive on urban waste water treatment is announced by the first half of 2022 as part of the Green Deal and its various circular economy strategies, biodiversity for 2030 zero pollution action plan for water, air and soil;
  • In May 2021 the adoption by the European Parliament of the regulation on water reuse which plans to help farmers make the best use of non-potable wastewater to mitigate water shortages while protecting the environment.

More specifically with regard to the NEB, the issues related to the preservation and enhancement of water through nature-based solutions join several axes of the approach:

  • Reconnecting with nature : water is generally at the centre of ecosystems, and the protection and sustainable preservation of the resource also involves nature-related solutions.
  • Regaining a sense of belonging : water is a common good and its preservation concerns all citizens, water in public space is generally an attractive element, a landmark, a meeting place, ...
  • Prioritising the places and people that need it the most : access to water and protection from water-related risks is a major challenge for public actors. The first visible effects of climate change show that the most vulnerable people are often the most exposed. At the same time, the issue of access to water from a social justice perspective is also a central issue.
  • The need for long-term, life-cycle thinking in the industrial ecosystem : water plays a central role in most industrial systems. Reducing consumption, recovery and reuse are crucial elements in circular economy models both to preserve the resource and to reduce production costs.

EU policies and programmes will gradually support the objectives of the New European Bauhaus and will offer opportunities for experimentation, lablisation and co-financing, in particular with calls for projects dedicated to the NEB or incorporating a NEB dimension:

  • Transformations of places on the ground
    • The New European Bauhaus – shaping a greener and fairer way of life in creative and inclusive societies through Architecture, Design and Arts (programme Horizon Europe / HORIZON-CL2-2022- HERITAGE-01-10 / Janvier 2022- Avril 2022)
    • Programme ‘European Urban Initiative’ (FEDER –UIA / programmé au troisième trimestre 2022)
  • Transformations of the enabling environnement for innovation
  • Calls: Cosme, Life, Horizon Europe, Erasmus +
  • Diffusion of new meanings Erasmus +

Objectives and questions for the workshops

The workshops aim to identify problems, or even solutions to work together between European cities and regions and their local operators, in order to build tomorrow projects capable of capturing EU funding and/or participating together in NEB dynamics.

Examples of questions for the workshop:

  • How to approach a resilient urban planning based on nature-based solutions in which climate risks are not denied but integrated into urban forms and uses?
  • Can risks become a lever for renewal of approaches, a catalyst for innovative reflexions and solutions, a vector for inter-territoriality and mobilisation of a new system of stakeholders?
  • How to go further in the valorisation of waterways with all relevant stakeholders with citizens, artists, to create a sense of belonging, a sense of price and awareness about environmental issues