Collaborative efforts towards sustainable water management at NICHES Rotterdam workshop

13 March 2023

On 13 March 2023 NICHES partners from the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW) organised a stakeholder workshop in NICHES’ case-study city of Rotterdam with the regional water management authority Hoogheemraadschap van Schieland en de Krimpenaarwaard for the area which stretches from Rotterdam, Zoetermeer to Schoonhoven.

The agency is part of the Water Alliance Rotterdam, a joint initiative of the municipality, surface water management authorities and drinking water companies, who are responsible for Rotterdam’s water cycle.

The Water Alliance group, which focuses on the ‘water systems’ was looking for new perspectives on conceptualising the urban watershed of Rotterdam and best practices for managing land and water for water storage, floods and water quality. The workshop was an important milestone for NICHES as the project studies nature-based solutions (NBS) and their application to sewage overflows in a social-ecological-technical systems (SETs) approach. 

The workshop was based around three key approaches, the Nature Future’s Framework of IPBES (presenting nature’s intrinsic, instrumental, and relational values), the three horizon approach to transformative change (portraying the current and undesirable state of affairs, the desired future, and pathways to achieving it) and the SETs approach. SETs is at the core of NICHES and sees the social, ecological, and technological systems as forming a single interconnected system where changes in one will impact the other.

Participants in the workshop were asked to discuss their work based on the aforementioned approaches. Attendees sketched out the current system in Rotterdam and the threats to its longevity, with climate change being a key negative driver endangering the urban waterscape and its quality. Interestingly, they indicated their struggles with cultural heritage in developing nature-positive solutions. Participants also shared their measurable desired future scenarios of water management in Rotterdam. 

After defining the future, the workshop continued with discussing possible pathways for achieving it. By using the SETs approach, participants offered solutions with regard to each specific facet - social, ecological, and technical. These solutions were also divided into those that are transformative (i.e. those bringing the future closer) and those that bring incremental change (i.e. those keeping the current situation manageable for a limited time). For example, stormwater retention basins were seen as extending the status quo, rather than finding innovative ways forward such as blue-green roofs that can serve as both rainwater retention basins, stimulators of biodiversity, housing insulators. 

In sum, NICHES’ Rotterdam workshop with key stakeholders from Dutch water management bodies was a productive and insightful occasion in NICHES’ calendar, which served to show the shared responsibility in protecting the water and nature of Rotterdam. Participants expressed the importance of discussing both short- and long-term water management issues and learned about the value of the SETs approach. The workshop was a great opportunity for networking with stakeholders and gaining insights into their needs and ambitions, which will shape NICHES’ work throughout the project duration.

Images: NICHES Rotterdam workshop - 13.03.2023. Photo credit: Lisette de Senerpont Domis