Prof. dr. ir. Huub Rijnaarts is Professor Environment and Water Technology at Wageningen UR, and one of our highly esteemed AIWW PAC-members. His research in sustainable water and soil resource management is distributed over four themes, among which the treatment and re-use of waste water, using innovative technologies. An interesting chat with an amicable pioneer and connector.

What is the biggest problem you see in the area you, and we, work in?
“Of course, cllimate change is a big worry. As a result, we’re facing salinization of the coast in delta areas and our ground and surface water becomes brackish. This is a major threat for the water we use for drinking, nature, irrigation and industry. If we don’t take action, sweet, healthy water becomes scarse. It becomes even more scarse, if we keep discharging waste water without thinking of reusing it. Is our water polluted? We get rid of it, dispose it to rivers that end up in the sea. In times of scarcity that’s not handy at all, as you can imagine. This is a problem for The Netherlands, but also for other deltas like in Vietnam, Bangladesh, Africa and India.”

How would an ideal world look like?
“In an ideal world we’d join forces, on an international level, sharing our expertise and learning from each other. Platforms like AIWW, where international water professionals meet and interact, facilitate our meetings. Together we would talk about the use anaerobic and membrane technology for treatment of waste water aiming at recovery of organic resources. We would be making water re-use possible by technology for biological or physical-chemical removal of harmful components. We’d master the valorisation of soil, groundwater and sediment resources for reuse, by soil remediation technology and improving sediment materials properties towards needed for reuse. And we’d excel in modelling novel circular economy resources, developing management schemes for harvesting and reuse of urban and industrial resources.”

Is there anything we can do to turn that dream into reality?
“Our perspective in how we treat water needs to change. We are used to fight water, now we should be on the same side and cooperate. Water is our friend, not our enemy. Take our Deltaplan, which is entirely focused on keeping water away. Protecting us against water. Whereas we should keep the water close, within our system, within our natural cycle. For ourselves, farmers, nature, and industry. Surface water, ground water, in canals, ditches, rivers, lakes. We need to look different at our waste water. It’s against our human nature to keep it, but we need to become more aware of the fact water always is an important resource that needs to stay in the cycle.”

Circularity seems to be the magic word these days …
“Indeed! At the moment a lot of our research is focused on circularity. For instance on the timing of recovering waste water, which now lost because only considering it end of pipe. We could however have different moments of recovery: the water a farmer or the industry needs doesn’t have to be of similar quality as drinking water. In order to have qualitative water for all parties, we research and develop technological and hydrological innovations which we apply in both existing and new systems. We also stimulate others in innovating. Already impactful cooperations arise, for instance the Bavaria Brewery collaborating with KWR and local farmers in Noord Brabant the Netherlands providing these with cleaned industrial waste water; the circular Water Factory project WILP of water authority Vallei and Veluwe, Royalhaskoning DHV, Witteveen and Bos and others using the cleaned waste water to feed ecological sensitive brooks; and water authority Hollands Noorder Kwartier together with drinking water company PWN treating waste water to feed into dune inflitration area’s to preserve drinking water resources and sensitive dune ecosystems. Also industrial end users take initiative such as  Dow Benelux and Evides creating in Terneuzen the Netherlands a sustainable and circular water resource based water provision of 25 million m3 a year, and Shell collaborating with Wageningen University and University Partners in Oman and Qatar in greening the desert programs using cleaned urban and industrial water for green infrastructure and agriculture. These industrial projects are part of the Water Nexus program lead by Wageningen University funded by Industry, Ministry of I&W and NWO.”

How can we align and introduce these initiatives on a broader scale?
“In collaboration with these projects global outreach has started, again with Wageningen University leading; with finances of NWO Urbanising Delta’s of the World (UDW) program, Industrial end users are developing a circular water approach in the region of Ho Chi Minh City, and with funds of NUFFIC the Water2Rice project was initiated bringing cleaned urban water (which is fresh water) of the coastal cities of Bangladesh to irrigation water for rice production in a salt water pressured delta. Similar projects are running and planned for India, Chili, and Africa by many Dutch universities and businesses. The LOTUSHR project coordinated by Technical University of Delft (and where WUR participates) is demonstrating such approaches in the heart of New Delhi, making the cleaned water of the Barapulah drain reusable for urban reuse.”

Who else needs to join forces?
“Though the Dutch water sector is very internationally oriented, we have a great challenge in the Netherlands to become resilient to cope with severing summer droughts, and here we need all partners. Therefore Wageningen University again launched a new initiative called AquaConnect, with for instance many opportunities for farmers. First connections are made, like with LTO Glaskracht, Bavaria brewery, some local farmers, but we need a lot of strengthening here. The agrosector is willing to think with us and in creating solutions together, they recognise the urgency. But for farmers and their organisations time and capacity can be   threshold. Please let them know there’s no need to be reluctant. Our new initiative AquaConnect is here to help and we are backed by the government, water boards and drinking water companies. Together we can make a stand, and make a difference. I’d also want to express the importance of international cooperation. Dutchies are pioneers who are extremely skilled in water management. We also are gogetters and connectors. We should use these capacities more often on an international scale. To help others but also to learn from others. I see an important role for AIWW here. The AIWW platform functions as an important facilitator on international level.”

Totally agree. Thank you for time!