Drought and flood impact plan finalised

Summary

Flanders has finalised its plan to address future droughts as well as flooding, taking measures that will be necessary as climate change takes hold

Summer was ‘proof positive’

An action plan for water security in Flanders has been finalised, focusing on how the region can be better prepared for periods of water scarcity, drought and flooding. Such extremes are expected to become more common in the future as a consequence of climate change.

The plan is the result of a consultation organised by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, together with environment minister Joke Schauvliege. This process began after unusually high rainfall in 2016, and continued as drought set in during 2017.

“This summer has proven how necessary this plan is,” said Schauvliege, taking delivery of the report this week. “Even now it is still extremely dry, and, despite the rainfall this week, it’s clear that this is absolutely not enough to top-up the low water supplies.”

The plan draws together opinions from civil servants, researchers and the farming, horticultural and food processing industries. It contains policy recommendations in five areas.

Governments must co-operate

First, alternative water sources need to be mapped out, taking into account stocks available today and how they can best be used. This should include the opportunities for stocking rainwater and for cleaning and re-using wastewater and drainage water, for example.

Second, the regulatory framework could be more effective. “We are thinking of the co-ordination between policy plans at different levels of government and between the various policy domains,” said Bart Debussche, co-ordinator of the consultation. “Possible bottlenecks must be eliminated.”

Agriculture, energy and climate policies all offer opportunities for improving water security, he added. Meanwhile income fluctuations due to water scarcity or flooding need to be addressed, and there should be greater clarity on issues such as permits and charges for building buffer basins, private water wells and so on.

Treated wastewater can be used as an alternative in times of water scarcity

- Environment minister Joke Schauvliege

A third action point is to encourage farmers and growers to take measures to increase the water security on their own farms and nurseries. Fourth, there needs to be more research and knowledge sharing on good practice. Possible priorities are the development of drought-resistant plant varieties, irrigation methods and remedial measures.

Finally, farmers and growers need to be more aware about sensible, sustainable water use and water management. Demonstration projects and practical guides could play a role in this context.

The first copy of the plan was handed over to Schauvliege at frozen food company Ardo in West Flanders, chosen because of a collaboration with local farmers that uses purified waste water from the factory in nearby fields. “This co-operation between agriculture and industry around water management is unique in Flanders and a nice example of how treated wastewater can be used as an alternative in times of water scarcity,” Schauvliege said.

Photo: James Arthur Gekiere/BELGA