Next Icons | Partner in the picture: Vechtstromen Water Authority
It is clear you can have a greater impact through collaboration. This is why Novel-T is looking beyond its own organization to join forces with parties with a heart for innovation. The most recent addition to the list of partners is the Vechtstromen Water Board. Stefan Nijwening, innovation manager at the water authority, talks about the collaboration.
This story was first published in the Next Icons Magazine. You can read the entire magazine here.
Just to give a picture: what exactly does the water authority do?
Stefan: “The Vechtstromen Water Authority, together with twenty other water authorities, is responsible for water management in the Netherlands. The water authorities are the oldest democratic institutions in the Netherlands, which is not surprising given our past with water. The area we take care of covers Twente, the Vechtdal, and South-East Drenthe. We purify the wastewater for the 800,000 residents in the area in order to ensure the water quality. But we are also concerned with water retention, which is becoming increasingly important due to increasing drought. We draw up policy on this, which can sometimes be abstract, but we also make it practical and focus mainly on implementation: via numerous small and larger projects in our work area.”
How much room for innovation is there within your organization?
Stefan: “A lot. Our water manager Stefan Kuks always says: innovation is in the DNA of the Vechtstromen Water Authority. I fully agree with that. This is also necessary because water management has many persistent issues for which we do not yet have a ready-made solution. For example, we have to consider how to remove medicine residues from drinking water. Or how to conserve water during drought. In what ways can we do that? These problems require new solutions. That’s why innovation is important to us: to quickly find feasible and affordable solutions to those types of problems. Moreover, we always wonder whether we can be smarter in what we do. For example, is there a better way to measure the groundwater level? Technology is moving faster and faster these days and we want to take advantage.”
Is this where the partnership with Novel-T comes in?
Stefan: “Yes, definitely. Novel-T has a network full of smart and innovative companies that can help us. We have a number of concrete issues on which we could use some brainstorming and action. Due to its strategic location on the University of Twente campus, Novel-T has a direct line with students and researchers. We would also like to involve them in the challenges we face and the solutions we need. We don’t yet know exactly how we are going to do that. We have entered into the partnership openly and embrace the ‘learning by doing’ principle. In any case, we are participating in the student think tank, Create Tomorrow, because innovation must also be inspiring and provide extra sparkle. I really enjoy putting an issue on the table and fully unpacking it. There is often a question behind the question. And when we pose the actual question to people from outside, and they come up with all kinds of fun, creative, and strange ideas, that’s when I say, ‘mission accomplished.’ Ultimately, I hope we will devise and achieve great regional solutions for specific regional issues. Having the Twente region be the testing ground for solutions to drought and water scarcity is the real dream.”
Our Blue Gold
The issue of drought – or better: water scarcity – is exactly where Vechtstromen sought co-operation with Novel-T. With the “Our Blue Gold” program, the Vechtstromen Water Authority is tackling water scarcity in the Twente region and increasing water awareness among residents and companies. Grolsch and Vitens are co-initiators of the program, and many companies and knowledge institutions are working together on this. Jan Gooijer, innovation manager at Vitens: “Due to the drought, we are increasingly unable to connect certain companies. This has a huge impact on the economy. And of course, we also have to deal with the ever-growing population. To cope with this, we need to develop solutions that do not yet exist, be they conventional or unconventional.” Grolsch is also one of the initiators. Susan Ladrak: “Water is crucial for brewing our beer. We strive to produce our beers as water-efficiently as possible and investigate options for reusing our water. Due to climate change, water availability in Twente is under pressure and only together can we tackle this. As a brewer, we would like to make an effort to realize our joint ambition of 'sufficient water in Twente for everyone'.”