Adri de Buck

Chairman Executive Board Hogeschool Zeeland University of Applied Sciences


1. What are – in your view – the economic values of water?

Water is a driving force for the economy and an important location factor for people, trade and industry in a region. Water is needed for drinking water and food production, industrial processes, the cooling of power plants, transport by ship and so on. The economic significance of water is therefore large, especially in densely populated areas such as the Dutch delta.

The Dutch water and delta technology sector has an annual turnover of approx. 10 billion euros and provides about 45 thousand jobs. In addition, this sector plays an important international role. Its added value has gradually increased in recent years. The force behind this growth are the many innovations in water technology and delta technology. Water offers great new opportunities for sustainable energy production from tides or waves, healthy food production through sustainable aquaculture, ecological designs for cost-effective water treatment and water defences, floating buildings, and so forth. Businesses, governments and knowledge institutions are therefore looking for new water talent that will make the most of these opportunities and realise a further growth of the water sector. The Delta Academy of HZ University of Applied Sciences anticipates this need and offers programmes on water ecology, delta technology and water management.

The economic value of water is determined by, on the one hand, the technical possibilities for providing suitable water and, on the other hand, by socioeconomic and political factors that determine the price. Climate change changes the availability of water. Both periods of drought and of peak rainfall are becoming more intense and occur more often. Sometimes there is a shortage of water and sometimes a surplus. Both lead to direct and indirect damage to the economy. Adaptation of economic sectors to climate change is therefore necessary to safeguard profit earning capacities and competitive strength.

2. Should we always look at water related problems from an economic perspective, and should that be a deciding factor?

Humans consist for some 60% of water and can survive without water for only a few days. In addition, many people are attached to the natural value and spiritual meaning of water. In essence, water is primarily a social issue; every person has a right to sufficient water, adequate sanitation and flood protection as minimal living needs. Globally, there is still a huge backlog in this area. New problems also announce themselves as a result of climate change (floods, salt intrusions, long periods of drought, etc.) and there is a ready chance that wars about water availability will occur. In such situations, the economic perspective comes in second place. In the private sectors, the availability of sufficient and clean water is weighed from a business economic perspective. In the public sector, a good cost recovery is important and the ‘polluter pays’ and ‘user pays’ principles apply. Regarding water safety, we must avoid that areas with limited flood protection enter a downward spiral, namely a drop in economic value due to flooding which would reduce the economically optimal level of protection even further. In addition to technical and economic considerations, administrative and social considerations are equally important.

The economic value of water is often a short-term perspective. It is also important to look at the intrinsic value of water for future generations and thus the value of water for the long term. HZ University of Applied Sciences has shaped this in a form of education and practice-based research around the topic “Resilience”. A theme aimed at maintaining the value of water and delta areas, so that water will also be available to support the new economies of the future.

3. Is the so-called circular economy a challenge or a solution for the water sector?

To provide populations with sufficient water, food and a properly functioning infrastructure in a sustainable (long-term) way a transition is needed from a linear economy to a circular economy. This requires, among other things, the safeguarding of natural capital, the economical use of raw materials, smarter design processes and the transition to renewable materials and energy. Water, wastewater and related content (components, heat) offer unprecedented opportunities to contribute to a circular economy by combining waste reduction, energy and raw materials recovery and surface water quality improvement. However, the implementation is a huge challenge. What is needed to this end in the field of water are both technological innovations, and socio-administrative innovations, but also economic-financial innovations.

4. Do you offer your students courses dealing with economic policy instruments that are or will become available for water management?

In the Delta Academy the economic perspective of water is getting more and more attention. Students learn to work with economic policy instruments, such as land exploitation plans for spatial development and social cost benefit analyses for climate adaptation measures. For this, we look at the calculated costs and benefits of measures, but also at the opportunities for applying new concepts and technology and the role of residents, companies and governments.

5. How do you familiarise students with the economic analyses of water-related issues?

Students learn how to approach ‘water-related problems’ in an integrated way and explore the economic potential of water. They are involved in practice-oriented research for and with companies and governments in the Dutch Delta and sometimes in other delta areas. Practice-oriented research is nearly always the result of an economic trigger.

The Delta Academy conducts research into sustainable aquaculture, building with nature, water technology, social resilience and climate adaptation. This research is done by a team of lecturers, teacher researchers and experts from the professional field. More and more often, research is being conducted in the setting of so-called ‘living labs’. In a living lab, a specific solution to a complex social issue in a region is being tested, in close collaboration with local authorities, NGOs, companies and knowledge institutions. This way, our practice-oriented research is fully integrated into the Delta Academy programmes (research = education) and at the same time it contributes to innovations in small and medium-sized businesses or big companies (product and business development) or innovations in governmental organisations (creation of social value). 

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