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Major challenges in the future require water knowledge

Droughts, floods or water pollution: these are all things we will face more often in the future. Water researchers at Wageningen University & Research (WUR) joined forces and presented a new vision to Rector Carolien Kroeze, to come up with integrated solutions together.

Major challenges are coming our way globally when it comes to water management. Take how we deal with water in agriculture in the Netherlands. Already, water quality is under pressure, for example from too much nitrogen. Climate change will make it drier in summer and wetter in winter, and sea levels are rising. How to manage water in the future so that farmers, nature and cities have enough clean water is a complicated puzzle. There are also many challenges at sea, such as combining wind farms, the fishing industry and underwater nature.

Or what about the rivers that spring from the Himalayas. Climate change is affecting meltwater runoff. A quarter of the global population depends on these rivers for irrigation water. How do we keep feeding these people?

'These kinds of water issues are puzzles in which the need to grow food, climate change, biodiversity and population growth are intricately linked,' says Catharien Terwisscha van Scheltinga, senior research associate Water Management in Deltas. 'A solution for one can cause a problem for the other. And something that seems convenient now may become an obstacle in the future.'

Water connects
That requires an integrated approach, says Terwisscha van Scheltinga. 'Wageningen researchers are good at collaboration and taking a broad systems approach to such complex issues. We have our own specialist knowledge, the pieces of the puzzle, but also the ability to see the whole picture and work with researchers from other fields as well as with practitioners.'

Such an interdisciplinary approach enables the development of integrated solutions and scenarios, thus contributing to a sustainable transition. 'Water is the connecting element here,' says Terwisscha van Scheltinga. Focusing on water, for example, brings together biologists, economists and agronomists, because water is important in all these fields.

Making it visible
'There is a huge diversity of people, knowledge and professional fields within WUR. What characterizes 'Wageningers' is that they can look beyond their own field of expertise,' says Anthony Verschoor, program leader Food and Water Security. 'Much more often than elsewhere, engineering and socio-economic researchers are used to working well together. This integrated water knowledge has not always been visible to the outside world. We are now going to address that.'

Power of Wageningen
The researchers elaborated the typical Wageningen approach in a water vision, which they presented to Rector Carolien Kroeze on 19 March. 'I welcome this new water vision,' Kroeze said at the time. 'The power of Wageningen is in integration. Water is a crucial topic for all the themes that WUR works on and is a unifying element. It is good that it is now more in the limelight.'

Before the presentation, around 100 water researchers, students and representatives from three different Ministries talked to each other about the water challenges of the future. Verschoor: 'There was a lot of interest and enthusiasm from people from all parts of our organization, as well as from the invited policymakers.'


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