More flexible drinking water production will soon become a necessity

Published: 20 May 2021

Together with drinkwatercompany Vitens and consultant Ruimtevolk we are studying a more flexible drinking water production. A future-proof drinking water supply requires new and more flexible extraction concepts.

Changing conditions such as droughts, in combination with increasing demand for drinking water, have prompted drinking water company Vitens to think outside the box to find creative approaches to drinking water production. For today and generations to follow in the future delta of the Netherlands. That is why the three-year project ‘Flexibility in future extractions – responding to the challenges of the future’ was started in 2020.

In this project, Vitens, Deltares and Ruimtevolk are looking for ways to make the drinking water extraction of the distant future (in 100 years’ time) more flexible. This is done by connecting existing knowledge and through research by design. Flexibility is defined as the ability of extractions to adapt quickly to the changed situation if a disruption or change occurs. This concerns the ability of the extraction to adapt to shocks from the environment and the ability to minimize shocks to the environment. The relationship between underground and above-ground activities such as urbanization, nature development, transition agriculture, is important in this research.

The first phase of the project has now been completed, resulting in the report ‘Flexible drinking water extraction – knowledge base’. In this report, the knowledge base is described and scenarios have been drawn up based on (un)predictable developments and the dynamics in water demand. In the next phase of the project, solution concepts are developed on the basis of creative research by design and eventually building blocks for flexible drinking water extraction will be distilled.


For the next hundred years, we expect important developments and social challenges that will affect water quality and water quantity in the Netherlands. On the one hand, there are developments in supply and demand in the next 100 years, which depend on the availability and quality of drinking water and the degree of innovation and changes implemented, such as deregulation, sustainability, and an increasing lack of space. We have some influence on these developments. On the other hand, there is the changing environment, for example the consequences of climate change. We have little or no influence on these changes. These development lead to four scenarios of the development of drinking water demand over 100 years, each of which requires a different kind of flexibility of drinking water extractions.

The four scenarios of the development of drinking water demand over 100 years, each of which requires a different kind of flexibility of drinking water extractions. <Top and bottom high dynamics/little dynamics, left predictable, right unpredictable>

A view on developments

To understand the meaning of flexibility and to imagine it, the report provides different storylines. Below a depiction of the scenario ‘The Turn’.

The depiction of scenario ‘The Turn’` with little dynamics and high unpredictablility


Six types of drinking water extractions being designed

Six types of extraction been described for the project, with the desired form of flexibility. Flexible solutions are now being designed for these extractions:

•Deep groundwater extraction;

•Shallow groundwater abstraction, rural environment;

•Shallow groundwater abstraction, urban environment;

•River bank groundwater extraction;

•Surface water extraction with basins;

•Decentralized extraction (possibly with basins).

One of the types of extraction is shallow groundwater extraction in an urban environment


This project is funded by Vitens, TKI Delta Technology and Deltares Strategic Research Funds.