Exploring innovative water management solutions in mountainous areas

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The IMPETUS project continues to make significant strides in addressing the complex challenges of water resource management, particularly in the picturesque Valle dei Laghi area. A recent workshop lead by local partners Eurac Research, MobyGIS Srl and BIM Sarca-Mincio-Garda held on December 12th, 2023, provided invaluable insights and recommendations towards the development of effective solutions for water scarcity issues.

Setting the scene

The Valle dei Laghi area is in the Province of Trento in the Italian Alps. A mosaic of mountain valleys, the area has an abundant water supply and a very fragmented population, with small villages and most municipalities having fewer than 5000 inhabitants.

Agriculture and food / wine production, hydropower production, forestry for wood fuel, slow tourism and winter ski tourism are the main economic activities. The Alps, and mountains in general, are recognised hotspots for climate change, with temperatures raising far beyond the average and more frequent extreme weather events.

Rapid climate change impacts will lead to increasing conflicts in water and land usage, for this reason IMPETUS is seeking to promote participatory approaches in decision making to ensure rapid transition to sustainable and integrated water management, biodiversity conservation and disaster risk reduction.

The IMPETUS workshop

To try and address the conflicting water needs such as irrigation, drinking water and hydropower exploitation, IMPETUS partners Eurac Research, MobyGIS Srl and BIM Sarca-Mincio-Garda in the Valle dei Laghi area have made efforts to engage with local and provincial stakeholders to gather inputs and feedback on what tools could be employed to, at least partly satisfy the needs of all affected parties.

During the workshop, IMPETUS partners presented new approaches such as hydrological forecasting – a highly useful tool for anticipating the occurrence of droughts and floods – and showed a protype of the digital twin of the Sarca river basin that will lead to the co-creation and development of a comprehensive Decision Support System (DSS) for sustainable and integrated water management. In other words a resilience tool, a platform from which stakeholders can deduce possible scenarios to make the best decisions in the face of increasingly extreme climate situations and the need to navigate water scarcity issues.

Making the Digital Twin of the Sarca river basin

The workshop invited active participation of various stakeholders, including researchers, local authorities, irrigation consortia and energy utilities. Through collaborative exercises and discussions, participants explored scenarios related to drought, irrigation, and hydroelectric generation, shedding light on the multifaceted nature of water management challenges.

Towards a robust Decision Support System: Human and Digital challenges

Workshop participants noted that the issue of climate change must be assessed and approached holistically by finding the right cooperation and coordination between different sectors, such as agriculture and hydropower, to mitigate conflicts over water resources. It was also stated that improving communication and awareness regarding water usage and scarcity among citizens is vital.

Participants highlighted the significance of historical data in formulating effective strategies and identified areas for improvement, such as enhancing data accessibility, integrating data-sharing mechanisms and refining user interfaces to facilitate informed decision-making.

They also underscored the importance of user-friendly interfaces and clear instructions for navigating the DSS platform. Addressing language barriers and ensuring seamless accessibility were identified as crucial factors in optimizing user experience.

IMPETUS activities in the Valle dei laghi area are being carried out within the framework of the Water-Energy-Food-Ecosystem Nexus. The workshop provided a valuable opportunity for stakeholders to collaborate, exchange insights, and chart a course towards more sustainable water management practices. As the project continues to evolve, these collective efforts will play a pivotal role in safeguarding water resources for future generations.

 

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High temperatures

Record-breaking summertime temperatures have been recorded in the Netherlands in recent years. With global temperatures rising, such extreme weather events will occur more often, and for longer periods. Prolonged high temperatures, with warm nights as well as hot days, can cause heat stress* and related health issues, particularly among city populations.

*Heat stress occurs when the human body cannot get rid of excess heat and can impact wellbeing through conditions such as heat stroke, exhaustion, cramps and rashes.

"We want to enable municipality decision makers who are working on spatial developments to identify heat stress 'hot spots' and cool areas, analyse the future effects of climate change, and model the effect of different heat stress-reducing measures. The tool must provide them with an easy starting point to integrate heat stress risks in their projects."

Issue

Despite the cooling effect of the sea in the region of Zeeland, the growing risk of heat stress has become a concern.

Elderly and other vulnerable people are more impacted by the effects of prolonged heat, which can cause headaches, dizziness, insomnia and other health issues – even death. Excess temperatures also affect general comfort and liveability of cities. Water quality can be reduced, both for drinking and swimming, and infrastructure can be affected. Buildings and concrete surfaces trap heat, potentially leading to damage, and release it during the night, keeping temperatures warm.

During heat waves, it is important that everyone has access to a cool and comfortable place. Appropriate spatial planning can help to decrease and deal with heat stress. Environmental factors like water bodies, trees, and shade have a major impact on stress caused by high temperatures. Therefore, planting trees, removing concrete surfaces, creating green roofs and cool spaces can improve our comfort and health. The IMPETUS Atlantic team is developing a digital tool to support regional decision making for city planning to address these needs.

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Flood risk

By 2050, sea-level within this region is predicted to rise by 15-40 cm, with more frequent extreme weather and more (severe) storms triggered by climate change. These changes will exacerbate the natural risk of flooding in the IMPETUS ‘Atlantic’ region, because it is surrounded by rivers and the sea, and is below sea level.

*Risk takes into account two aspects; the chance that an event will occur and the negative impact of such an event once it occurs. When there is a low chance that an event will occur, but its impacts are huge, the risk is still significant.

“In the Netherlands, an extensive system of dikes protects us against sea and river flooding. We have always put our faith in this defence and focused almost solely on flood prevention. However, pressure on our system will increase with climate change and rising sea levels. To adapt and maintain a safe living environment, we should develop other safety measures, like more robust spatial planning and contingency plans."

Issue

Rotterdam city, is located in Rijnmond – ‘mouth of the Rhine’. The Rhine river flows through this densely populated area and characterises the region. Protections such as sea dikes and storm surge barriers have been constructed to protect the region, but flooding still occurs.

People living in the city are accustomed to seeing smaller floods. The changing climate affects the interplay between rainfall, river levels and sea storms, increasing the flooding risk. Water levels could rise by a few metres, even in populated areas, with potentially massive impacts. 

Mitigation measures such as storm surge barriers reduce the chance that high water reaches the city, but to minimise the impact of floods when they do occur, adaptation strategies are also needed. A city that can adapt to be safe from floods must be carefully designed. How best to design such an adaptive city?

Critical infrastructure, such as hospitals and evacuation routes, must be accessible at all times. Planning how to best protect them, homes and lives is complex. Flood water behaves in a complex way and flood risks show strong spatial variations. The IMPETUS Atlantic team is developing a digital tool to support regional decision making for adaptive city planning. 

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Energy and waste water

To become climate-neutral by 2050, climate mitigation* efforts are crucial in our strategy for how to deal with climate change. Reducing our energy consumption is a significant mitigation step. In the Netherlands, 15% of energy is consumed in the Rijnmond area around the port of Rotterdam, in large part by a major petrochemical industry cluster.

*Climate mitigation encompasses measures such as technologies, processes, or practices that reduce carbon emissions or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases.

Issue

The Rotterdam port petrochemical industry cluster is Europe’s largest. It consumes 70% of the Rijnmond region’s energy. A large part of this energy is wasted (64%, 203 petajoules). More than half of that energy is lost with wastewater. In addition, most energy processes within these industries rely on fossil fuels, which has a significant impact on the climate.

Energy use must be minimised and fossil fuels should be replaced by renewable sources if climate change is to be mitigated. Electrification of processes opens up the possibility to use more renewable energy and can greatly impact decarbonisation. Recovering wasted heat would significantly reduce energy consumption and is a first step towards a more circular industry. 

Supporting industries in a transition towards climate-neutrality depends on identifying how best to reduce their carbon footprint without sacrificing production or performance. The IMPETUS Atlantic team is creating a digital tool that supports decision making about pathways towards an effective energy transition for EU industry.