Barcelona, Spain, 6 March 2023 – The Biodiversa+ and WaterJPI-funded project NICHES held a two-part International Symposium on Nature-based Solutions in Urban Water Systems. The first part was held in English and welcomed both in person and online participants, focusing on introducing the project and its five case study cities. The second part, held in Catalan and Spanish, targeted local stakeholders and fostered a discussion around the desired future for the urban water system in the NICHES case-study city of Barcelona and the Barcelona Metropolitan Area (AMB). Around 20 stakeholders attended in person and 30 joined online. Key messages of the day are outlined below.
The Symposium began by detailing the NICHES co-design processes and how the project builds on traditional approaches of urban water management and uses nature-based solutions (NBS) for mitigating and preventing combined sewer overflow (CSO) events. “NICHES utilises social-ecological-technical systems (SETS) approach for integrating innovative ideas for water management in cities with the aim of increasing the resilience and sustainability of urban waterscapes and aquatic biodiversity,” said project coordinator, McKenna Davis from the Ecologic Institute in Berlin in her opening words.
Part 1: NICHES cities and co-design arenas
Part 1 focused on sharing a perspective on hazards and social vulnerabilities from New York City in the USA, presented by PhD candidate Pablo Herreros. He outlined how extreme precipitation caused by climate change is unable to be absorbed by the current aquatic infrastructure in the city.
The American perspective was reinforced by an exploration of another coastal city and NICHES case-study - Boston - presented by project partner Matthew Eckelman from Northeastern University. “As a coastal city, Boston is experiencing the severe consequences of climate change and to address this, the city has embraced NBS for managing stormwater run-off, preventing CSO events, and dissipating energy from waves to protect the coast,” shares Dr Eckelman. Various green infrastructures have been set up in Boston such as infiltration chambers, drywells, and permeable pavements.
The NICHES Symposium continued with illustrating the unique challenges and state of NBS in Europe - namely in Berlin and Rotterdam - presented by NICHES partners Gregory Fuchs from the Ecologic Institute in Berlin and Dr Lisette de Senerpont Domis from the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW). Berlin’s infrastructure is predominantly grey, which impedes the natural flow of water bodies and causes an accumulation of wastewater. This, combined with the impact of climate change has led to a severe volume of overflow events. Berlin has had a tide of transformative policies on integrating NBS in the solutions of these problems.
In the case of Rotterdam, due to being below sea level, the city experiences flooding and challenges with saltwater infiltration. As a major European port, heavy industrialisation is endemic to the city, which creates additional difficulties with water management. Furthermore, Rotterdam has a traditionally built sewage system prone to CSO events. Dr. De Senerpont Domis outlined that “the city’s ambition is to transform urban spaces to include more green water retention areas alongside grey solutions such as rainwater squares.”
Part 2: Barcelona stakeholder workshop
Part 2 of the NICHES International Symposium focused on discussing the case-study city of Barcelona and the AMB with local stakeholders. Around 20 practitioners and academics from the field, as well as representatives from civil society participated in the discussion. Dr. Sara Maestre Andrés led the workshop, which aimed to gauge stakeholders’ views on the current state and desired future for the urban water system in the AMB.
Divided into smaller groups, the participants discussed the resilience of the current water management system and agreed it functions well in dry conditions but during heavier precipitation events, combined sewer overflows happen regularly. Another challenge stakeholders identified is that the region is facing extreme droughts. “We lack water, and yet we drain the rainwater and allow it to get contaminated with residual waters,” shared a participant.
In sum, the stakeholder workshop participants see an urgent need for changes in the water management of AMB, incorporating NBS for reuse of rainwater as well as increasing public awareness and inclusive decision-making. NICHES aims to co-create possible transition pathways with the stakeholders so as to enable a systemwide shift towards more resilient urban waterscapes in the AMB.
For more information about NICHES visit www.niches-project.eu.
This project was funded through the 2020-2021 Biodiversa and Water JPI joint call for research proposals, under the BiodivRestore ERA-Net COFUND programme, and with the funding organisations: German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, Agencia Estatal de Investigación, Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality of the Netherlands.