Vitens: Rethinking drinking water

Modern suburban area Noorderplassen in Almere, The Netherlands, featuring artificial islands, located on Flevoland polder, surrounded by nature and the Nieuwe Land national park. Aerial view.

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Freshwater sources across the world are increasingly strained through overuse and the impacts of climate change. The Netherlands is no exception, which has prompted Vitens, the country’s largest drinking water company, to take an innovative approach to futureproof its water supply.
Doeke Schippers, Leading Professional and Advisor to the Vitens Board, shares his insights on the company’s Living Lab concept.
Why did you decide to use such an innovative approach?
Doeke Schippers: “We began by imagining what the future water system would look like in 100 years, factoring in extreme weather conditions such as droughts and heavy rains. At the same time, population growth and urbanisation increase the demand for drinking water
“Our usual approach of making small changes to address water needs is not enough. We need a transformation to ensure sustainable drinking water for the future, for the benefit of people and the environment.”
How will the Living Lab help develop short- and long-term solutions?
“Normally, we would need permits to extract more ground water and build new production sites, a process that can take more than 20 years before the water reaches consumers’ taps.
“The Living Lab allows us to do things differently. We test and validate solutions at a different pace, bringing in expertise from different fields such as hydrology, process engineering, and change and stakeholder management to ensure that we work across the value chain.
“Our goal is to develop standardised drinking water facilities that can be adapted across our production sites. This way, we can produce extra drinking water in the short term, while serving as a blueprint for the future.”
How are you working with consumers to save water?
“We work across our full value chain, advising people on saving and reusing water, testing new solutions in people’s homes to save water from the tap, and working on a digital tool that allows users to track their water consumption.
“We also plan to invite consumers to the Living Lab to demonstrate how we treat water from new sources without compromising the quality.”
How has it been to collaborate with Ramboll on the Living Lab?
We have had a natural fit and benefit greatly from the knowledge Ramboll brings from other water resilience projects. We work in such an integrated way that it is hard to tell who is from Vitens or Ramboll. We have a responsibility to solve this important task, and that is a big driver.”

About the Living Lab

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Living Labs are open innovation ecosystems in real-life environments where concepts, technologies, and solutions can be tested and validated.
The Vitens Living Lab is a collaboration between Vitens, Ramboll, ADS Groep B.V., and other partners who aim to define a new water landscape and drinking water treatment technologies.
The project is carried out in three phases: designing, building, and operating the living lab demonstration plant, which will have a capacity 5-10 million m3/year.

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