Resource diversity beyond the dunes
As CEO of Dutch water utility Dunea Duin & Water, Wim Drossaert leads an organisation with an unusual twin identity. It supplies drinking water to around one and a half million people in one of the most densely populated parts of the Netherlands. It also manages a unique ecological asset – a coastal dune complex that attracts more than a million visitors a year.
The link is that the dunes near the city of The Hague form a crucial stage in the treatment of the water Dunea supplies. ‘The combination of nature protection with drinking water protection is pretty unique,’ says Drossaert. ‘It is an easy fit. As a drinking water utility, you cannot afford to have someone disturb your catchment area, in our case the dunes. Also, the dunes as a nature area are so unique in the world that it makes it easier to justify protecting them.’
Local groundwater is brackish, so Dunea is one of the few water utilities in the Netherlands to rely on river water. This has to be transferred some 70km across major cities from the River Meuse. ‘That’s really a challenge,’ says Drossaert. The water is infiltrated in the dunes then extracted after a few months and following further treatment is ready for use in supply.
This reliance on river water means Drossaert is acutely aware of the impact of pollution. ‘We find new substances in the river every day,’ he comments, referring to substances such as medicines. Climate change means greater extremes of low river flow increase the impact of discharges into the river. ‘We see an increasing need for protecting the river from pollution and for new treatment technologies,’ he says.
Rising pollution is a wider issue. ‘In my country, there is a debate about who should use the river for what,’ says Drossaert. It is therefore a matter on which the forthcoming Amsterdam International Water Week can make a contribution. ‘I think there is not enough attention on this problem,’ he adds.
Drossaert flags up another concern. ‘I think that in future, I cannot afford to depend only on river water,’ he says. This would mean diversifying into options such as desalination, groundwater, or reclaimed water – another growing theme of interest for AIWW.
‘In my country, there is a debate about who should use the river for what. I think there is not enough attention on this problem.’
Wim Drossaert, CEO of Dutch water utility Dunea Duin & Water
Dunea is already involved in research on reusing water from sewage treatment. Drossaert notes though the importance of the dunes as a natural filter in the overall scheme and the positive role they would play in public perception of such reuse. ‘It really could help with the reputation,’ he says.
Drossaert is particularly interested in gaining insights during AIWW on such wider interaction with customers. ‘I think that in my utility, we are not yet focused enough on improving customer satisfaction,’ he says. ‘That’s probably the case for most utilities in the Netherlands.’ He is interested in how big data and digital information can be used in this area. ‘That’s one of the subjects in the week that I personally would like to learn more about,’ he says.