Thirsty Cities

Learning from Dutch water supply heritage

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Cities worldwide currently face freshwater shortages. Forecasts predict that demand will outstrip naturally renewable and available water supplies by 40% by 2030. This poses a serious threat to livability in cities and urban areas that are already struggling with water-related issues like floods and land subsidence. Water insecurity, in particular, now intensified by climate change, calls for integrated and creative solutions. The Dutch heritage in freshwater management, sometimes overlooked and undervalued due to its utilitarian and often modest orientation, is able to provide knowledge and inspiration toward developing water-secure, water-sensitive cities. Three lessons can be learned from Dutch water supply heritage. First, the quest for clean drinking water has sometimes driven the development of valuable urban greenscapes, waterscapes, and nature and landscape conservation areas. Second, those who initiated and managed water-related innovations were often private and commercial parties which collaborated with public entities. Third, although Dutch water supply heritage has become invisible or is not recognized, it embodies valuable systems and practices, particularly with regard to the multisource water supply, private and collective rainwater harvesting, that today could benefit both water supply and wastewater systems. Reducing the need for clean drinking water, generating less storm water runoff, needs to be done while engaging the public in building water-sensitive, safe cities.