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DESSIN: new technologies for innovative water management

July 29, 2014

DESSIN_CMYK_CLAIM_WEBSustainable water management is one of the most pressing global environmental challenges, as growing human populations abstract, pollute and divert water flows across the world, whilst patterns of precipitation shift in response to a changing climate.  The result is a situation where some parts of the world are facing more severe floods, whilst others are experiencing acute water scarcity.  Global freshwaters are increasingly polluted, particularly in urban areas.

DESSIN is a new European Union project which aims to specifically address water scarcity and water quality issues in urban areas, partnering scientists with water management organisations and technology companies to attempt to design new and innovative solutions for water management.  This work is particularly designed to help contribute to the European Water Framework Directive, which is undergoing a review in 2015.

DESSIN – Demonstrate Ecosystem Services Enabling Innovation in the Water Sector –  focuses on new technologies and the ecosystem services concept as catalysts for providing new water management solutions, stating that the project “will be able to demonstrate how innovative solutions in the water cycle can increase the value of the services provided by freshwater ecosystems”.  

The project has two broad aims: first to explore new technology and management approaches to address some of the world’s most pressing water issues; and second to use the ecosystem services concept to provide evidence of the benefit of new approaches in economic, social and environmental terms, in order to encourage their widespread adoption.

Five urban study areas have been chosen across Europe.  David Schwesig, project co-ordinator at the IWW water centre in Germany explains how the sites were chosen: “When we were building the consortium for DESSIN, we were making a careful choice of demonstration sites which are representative of global major water challenges in the areas of water scarcity and water quality. Although solutions demonstrated in DESSIN need to be tailored to the specific local needs to some extent, we are aiming to deliver validated solutions with a high transferability potential to other sites with similar challenges, within Europe or even beyond”.

Different aspects of the DESSIN project will be investigated across these five sites.  At Emscher in Northern Germany, the project will explore new approaches for sewage treatment in a landscape where river channels are being re-naturalised following a century of modification by industry.  New technological solutions for monitoring and managing sewer overflows will be implemented at Hosselva, close to Oslo in Norway, as current water quality in local rivers is low, particularly during periods of heavy rain when the sewers flood.  At Westland in the Netherlands, new techniques for extracting freshwater from brackish coastal aquifers (containing a mix of fresh and salt water) will be tested, using the reverse osmosis process to remove salt from the aquifer water.

Athens in Greece is one of the most water stressed cities in the world, and here the project will trial sewer mining as a means of sustainably reusing and recycling water to irrigate green spaces within the city.  Finally, at Llobregat close to Barcelona in Spain a new deep groundwater injection system which can recharge underground aquifers will be trialled to help ensure freshwater availability during times of drought.

DESSIN aims to design and implement a new common evaluation framework for ecosystem services in partnership with the European ‘Ecosystem Services for Europe’ Action Group.  As the first DESSIN newsletter (pdf) outlines, even when technological solutions to water problems are designed, there are likely to be barriers to their uptake by the market and policy makers: “Innovation uptake is limited by the difficulty of conducting comprehensive comparisons between the value of established technologies/management options and novel alternatives. In this context, the ecosystem services approach (ESA) may enable a standardised evaluation of impacts from innovations, in particular by integrating the economic, environmental and societal dimensions. Using the ESA to compare the potential of technologies and management options may help generate additional incentives and arguments for market uptake and practical implementation of innovations.”

We’ll continue to follow the DESSIN project as it develops and grows over the coming years, and report back on its findings.

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