Clean subsurface and water are vital for a healthy living environment

Soil and water in the Netherlands, and worldwide, are becoming increasingly polluted due to rising levels of production in response to population growth and increasing prosperity. Examples include trace medicines, hormones and microplastics that spread through our groundwater.

We are also discovering more and more new emerging substances in surface water, soil and sediment. There are ample reasons for this to be one of the priorities in the Dutch Delta approach to water quality and it is also a concern in Europe. It is important to use our environment sustainably because recovery costs a lot of time and money. That is why Deltares is developing knowledge about the possible damage, sources and routes of these substances in collaboration with other research institutes. To prevent damage or identify efficient and effective solutions.

The main threats to the soil and water system worldwide will have to be tackled by 2030. That has been stated in the sustainable development goals of the United Nations. Goals to which the Netherlands is also committed. The knowledge we have about the soil, sediment and water systems that you find in every delta is inextricably linked to this objective. Healthy soil and clean water are needed for sustainable drinking water and food production, for humans and animals. The World Bank pointed out in 2019 that, without good water quality, economic and social growth is no longer possible.

Applicable knowledge for all of society

As a research institute, we work together with, for example, the National Institute of Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), universities and companies but also with direct stakeholders such as local residents. In a European context, we work with the Dutch government on solutions for healthy water and soil systems, for example by tackling the loss of biodiversity and pollution. In all our activities, our primary focus is on making knowledge applicable. For example in the MOMENTUM project looking at microplastics and harmful biofilm, in the knowledge impulse for water quality looking at groundwater, or the sustainable management of brackish waters. But we are also helping to lay the foundations for environmental policy and standards in the Emissions Register.

In 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities. We develop measurement techniques, monitoring strategies and models to keep the living environment there safe and healthy. In this way, management authorities and users have a clearer picture of water and soil quality, and therefore of opportunities for improvements. More and more often, we get the general public directly involved by asking them to make their own measurements using techniques and methods developed for that purpose. We are working on an algae radar with regional water management authorities in the Netherlands and other countries to deliver alerts about, for example, harmful cyanobacteria. Our microbiologists investigate natural solutions such as bacteria to combat soil or sediment pollution, or to dry clean dredged material, with reuse as the ultimate objective.

Citizen Science project in Almere The Netherlands (on the left researcher Bas van der Zaan)

International questions enrich knowledge

We enrich and share our knowledge about water and soil internationally. We work with international universities and funders of projects such as the World Bank or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and our embassies. We are involved in water quality issues in Dhaka, Bangladesh. And in Denmark, farmers measure nitrate levels with our Nitrate App. We advise about improving the water quality of, for example, Lake Toba  in Sumatra. Companies abroad are eager to work with us on making their production methods more sustainable. In New Zealand, for example, where we have collaborated with Dairy NZ on the development of a practical tool to make measures to reduce agricultural emissions effective.

Life in the delta and diseases

We also keep a finger on the pulse in the field of water quality and diseases. With Dutch institute KWR, for example, we are looking at whether coronavirus spreads in waste water in Peru  and we are engaged in research in the Netherlands to see whether water quality affects disease vectors such as mosquitoes.