AIWW 2019 interview: Roelof Kruize, Managing Board AIWW

The aims of water utilities can go right to the heart of modern urban living. “In the 1970s, Europe’s surface waters were heavily polluted. Investment in wastewater treatment plants and control of sewer overflows have been key to a transformation that is increasingly a mark of civic pride,” says Roelof Kruize, CEO of Waternet and member of the Managing Board of AIWW with responsibility for the AIWW Conference Utility Leaders Forum. “Being able to swim in the waters of densely populated areas is now one of the ultimate goals we want to achieve,” he adds.

This has been an ambition for the AIWW host city. “The water quality in the Amstel has improved so much that you can swim in the canals of Amsterdam,” says Roelof. Cities such as Copenhagen and Berlin have pursued similar ambitions. And Paris has its sights set on such a goal as host of the 2024 Olympic Games. “They want to start the triathlon in the Seine, near the Eiffel Tower,” says Roelof.

These cities are also linked by their participation in AIWW Conference, both in the Utility Leaders Forum and because they are among those to have signalled their commitment to work together through Amsterdam Agreements. “The previous edition of AIWW Conference saw utilities from Paris, Berlin, New York, Copenhagen, Singapore and Amsterdam sign up to Amsterdam Agreements,” explains Roelof. “AIWW Conference is not just a one-off event – it is an on-going process where water utilities learn from each other. It is amazing how much we have in common,” he says.

This reflects the wider value for utilities in participating in the Utility Leaders Forum. “The main thing is that the utilities themselves say what their challenges are – extreme weather conditions, micropollutants, asset management, and so on,” says Roelof. “They bring their challenges and see how fellow utilities share those challenges or can even offer solutions.”

Utilities are however only part of the solution. For example, great progress is being made to shift to a resource recovery role for wastewater treatment plants, opening opportunities such as biomass and protein production. “The protein from wastewater treatment plants isn’t a product that can be used directly – we need industry to provide the extra step, and there are industrial partners who are also aiming to move from a linear to a circular approach,” says Roelof.

This is why the Utility Leaders Forum is embedded within a Leadership Programme that connects with city and industry leaders, as well as the finance community that supports projects. “We have researched the progress of European countries with the SDGs – we are not on schedule,” says Roelof. “We really need utilities, cities and industry to work together to make this happen.”

This need to connect and cooperate to achieve progress applies for AIWW itself, which is why AIWW links with other events and partners to ensure it contributes within the global water calendar. “We are cooperating globally, to build a community that comes together more times a year than would be the case for single events, and so create a continuing story,” says Roelof.

So Roelof extends an invitation to participate in AIWW Conference 2019 as an opportunity to unite for action around utility ambitions – which can include the goal of swimmable rivers and canals: “As the saying goes, come on in, the water’s lovely!”