Having enough clean, fresh water is a prerequisite for the health, economic development and social well-being of a society. However, the world’s water resources are threatened by climate change and by the increasing demand from expanding urban populations, which is leading to groundwater depletion, saltwater intrusion, and the deterioration of water quality due to pollution. These threats are moving water up the international agenda. Recently, the World Economic Forum (2014) [1] ranked the ten global risks of highest concern. Three of them are related to water: the greater incidence of extreme weather events (rank 6), the failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation (rank 5), and the water crisis (rank 3). The United Nations [2] estimates that in 2025 about 2 billion people will have an absolute water shortage and that two thirds of the world population will be affected by water scarcity. Estimates for 2030 predict that water demand will outstrip actual water supply by 40% [3]. Furthermore, at present 2.5 billion people live in conditions without adequate sanitation. This leads to disease and mortality, particularly among children [4].

In the European Union, the main water challenges are [5]: contaminated waters and poor ecological status; and water stress and vulnerability to extreme events (floods, droughts). The continuing presence of a range of pollutants in many of Europe's freshwaters threatens aquatic ecosystems and raises concerns for public health. It is likely that half of Europe's water bodies will still be in poor ecological state in 2015 [6] -- including those in the Netherlands [7]. Bathing water quality in the Netherlands ranks among the worst in Europe and, indeed, has deteriorated over the last few years. Drinking water sources are under pressure and need extra protection [8]. Water use often exceeds water availability, resulting in water stress across much of Europe [9]. The efficiency of water use needs to be improved and water reuse promoted [5]. European cities are growing and need long-term sustainable water supply and water for food production, while rural areas are depopulating. New uses of the underground, such as for heat exchange and shale gas extraction, exceed stress on the availability of groundwater for water and food supply. The water infrastructure is ageing and there are demands for it to be upgraded and adapted to the changing demographics. Flooding events are increasingly frequent, and inflict social and economic damage on cities in particular [10]. On the other hand, water and green areas offer opportunities for urban water management that would enhance both the resilience and the liveability of cities.

It is recognized that current water management is not sustainable. Society faces risks that can be addressed only by long-term thinking and collaboration among business, governments and civil society. But the time window for this effort is rapidly closing [1,11]. KWR’s 2008 research agenda aimed to strengthen the water sector by identifying and creating the best available scientific knowledge to tackle the challenges. It was built upon four themes: health, sustainability, efficiency and innovation. Now, in 2014, these themes have further grown in significance and urgency. Moreover, there is an increasing acceptance of the need and value of a circular economy, as a means of protecting and preserving natural resources and reusing materials and resources. This notion is shared, and its realisation called for, by a more and more engaged citizen community. It is increasingly recognized that efficiently addressing water challenges and appropriate use of ecosystem services requires an integrated approach. This means both integration within the water sector itself [7,8,10], but certainly also with other urban sectors, such as energy, transport, solid waste processing, informatics, communication, housing and recreation. In short, the new water management approach has to be: adaptive to the rapidly changing context with an uncertain future; integrated, to be able to tackle complex, interrelated problems; and participatory, to openly engage the stakeholders [12,13]. It is in this light that KWR’s research agenda has been updated. While retaining the objective of empowering the water sector to manage water in a healthy, sustainable, innovative and efficient way, KWR’s new research agenda emphasizes the interfaces between the water and other sectors, the integration within the water cycle, and the role of water in ecosystem services and a circular economy.


The research agenda was drawn up under the leadership of KWR's Chief Science Officer prof. Gertjan Medema in close collaboration and consultation with the research staff and the management of the institute.

In particular:
KWR's Science Council: dr. ir. Mirjam Blokker, dr. ir. Emile Cornelissen, prof. dr. Kees van Leeuwen, prof. dr. Pieter Stuyfzand, prof. dr. Wim van Vierssen, prof. dr. Pim de Voogt, dr. ir. Jan Vreeburg, prof. dr. Flip Witte, prof. dr. Annemarie van Wezel 

KWR's Chief Information Officer: dr. Christos Makropoulos 

KWR's research coordinators and researchers: drs. Camiel Aggenbach, drs. Henk-Jan van Alphen, dr. ir. Jos van Asmuth, dr. Kirsten Baken, dr. ir. Ruud Bartholomeus, dr. Patrick Bauerlein, drs. Chris Buscher, ing. Erwin Beerendonk, ir. Ralph Beuken, ir. Jos Boere, dr. Stijn Brouwer MA, ir. Jos Frijns, dr. ir. Jan Hofman, dr. ir. Roberta Hofman-Caris, dr. ir. Bas Hofs, dr. ing. Wim Hijnen, dr. Annemieke Kolkman, dr. Stefan Kools, ir. Jan Willem Kooiman, dr. Auke Kronemeijer, dr. Thomas ter Laak, ir. Frank Oesterholt, ir. drs. Miranda Pieron, dr. Klaas Jan Raat, dr. ing. Kees Roest, dr. ing. Merijn Schriks, dr. ing. Andrew Segrave, dr. ir. Patrick Smeets, drs. Bernard Voortman, dr. Paul van der Wielen, ir. Bart Wullings, dr. Marielle van der Zouwen, dr. Gertjan Zwolsman.

  1. World Economic Forum, 2014. Global Risks, 9th edn., Geneva, Switzerland. 
  2. UN, 2012. World Urbanization Prospects: The 2011 Revision. United Nations, New York, USA. 
  3. McKinsey 2030 Water Resources Group, 2009. Charting our water future. Economic frameworks to inform decision-making. West Perth, USA. 
  4. WHO, 2008. Safer water, better health: costs, benefits and sustainability of interventions to protect and promote health. World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland. 
  5. European Commission, 2012. A Blueprint to Safeguard Europe's Water Resources. EC, Brussels. 
  6. European Environment Agency, 2012. European waters — assessment of status and pressures. EEA report 08/2012. 
  7. OECD, 2014. Water Governance in the Netherlands. Fit for the Future? OECD Studies on Water, OECD Publishing. 
  8. Ministerie Infrastructuur & Milieu, 2014. Beleidsnota Drinkwater. 
  9. European Environment Agency, 2012. Water resources in Europe in the context of vulnerability. EEA report 11/2012.  
  10. Ministerie Infrastructuur & Milieu, 2009. Nationaal Waterplan 2009-2015. 
  11. Hoekstra, A.Y., Wiedmann, T.O., 2014. Humanity’s unsustainable environmental footprint, Science 6, 344(6188):1114-1117 DOI: 10.1126/science.1248365 
  12. Pahl-Wostl, C., J. Sendzimir, P. Jeffrey, J. Aerts, G. Berkamp, K. Cross, (2007). Managing change toward adaptive water management through social learning. Ecology and Society 12(2): article 30. 
  13. Molle, F. 2008. Nirvana Concepts, Narratives and Policy Models: Insights from the Water Sector. Water Alternatives, 1(1): 131-156. 


Gertjan Medema
Gertjan Medema

Chief Science Officer
030 60 69 653



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