Blue Deal to restore wetland and boost water resilience


€75 million investment will add to water reserve capacity and aims to tackle region’s water scarcity

Treat with care

The Flemish government is making €75 million available for a “Blue Deal” to tackle drought. A series of actions – including buffer basins and circular water use – will address the issue and increase the region's water resilience.

Belgium is among the worst-affected countries in Europe for water scarcity. Because of the density of its population and the presence of industry and agriculture, it suffers more than much hotter regions such as the south of Spain. Parts of Flemish Brabant recently faced a lack of tap water because consumption was too high and reserves were not replenished quickly enough.

To tackle these problems, environment minister Zuhal Demir has announced an initial investment of €75 million, which will be supplemented in the autumn. The Blue Deal is made up of more than 70 actions: they include introducing more wetlands, securing commitments from industry and agriculture, and establishing local drought plans. A taskforce of scientists will also examine the issues.

“There has been a lot of drought in recent years, which has consequences for agriculture and horticulture,” Demir said. “In addition, it also entails risks for our water-sensitive industry. Water is a scarce commodity that we must treat with care.”

Equipped for future drought

Studies have shown that Flanders has lost 75% of its wetlands in the past 50 to 60 years, so an important part of the plan is to restore ponds and lakes, wet grasslands, wooded peatlands and marshes. These potentially hold the most water and can also store carbon.

In addition, large water buffers are being added to provide sufficient reserve capacity, and the intention is to restore watercourses to their original winding shape, known as remeandering.

At local level cities and municipalities will have to draw up a rainwater and drought plan from 2024 if they want to claim water-related subsidies, while companies that apply for subsidies will have to carry out a water audit.

“The Blue Deal has good principles, but the budget that has been made available is very limited,” Patrick Willems of KU Leuven told VRT. “We must make a lot more available, otherwise Flanders will not be equipped in the future to deal with the increasing drought that we are faced with.”

Photo: A reservoir in Evergem during dry weather earlier this year
© Belga/Eric Lalmand