How VITO makes Flanders waterproof

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Are you already familiar with the Flemish Blue Deal? This ambitious project combats water scarcity and drought. It focuses on cooperation and implements concrete measures, such as smart water use, wet nature restoration, and green-blue infrastructure.

Mentality change, innovation and policy measures are included in the approach. By retaining water locally, reusing it and reducing waste, the Blue Deal seeks to create a balance between water supply and demand. The project stimulates cooperation between companies, farmers, citizens and knowledge institutions, focusing on concrete, practical solutions. One of these knowledge institutions is VITO (Flemish Institute for Technological Research), which is in charge of the Flanders WaterProof project within the Blue Deal.

In practice innovation and realisations rely on thorough research and concrete data. This is why the actions in the context of Flanders WaterProof are monitored and logged with great precision.

Flanders WaterProof

Water scarcity and flooding are very relevant challenges, especially for Flanders. In Flanders WaterProof, an emphasis is put on better retention and use of (rain) water instead of rapid discharge towards the sea.

In concrete terms, the project studies sustainable, systemic solutions in three demo areas: an industrial zone in Tielt, the sand extraction wells in the Kempen region and the fruit regions Haspengouw and Hageland. The focus is put on sustainable measures that make the area and the local economy resistant to climate change, not merely symptom control.

This obviously requires the necessary knowledge and expertise.

As a knowledge institution with the mission to accelerate the transition to a sustainable world, VITO coordinates the project. Additionally, Flanders WaterProof combines the strength and expertise of several strong partners and stakeholders. They each make a meaningful contribution in their domain or region to the success of the project and the transition to a resilient Flemish water system.

Water-related challenges

Of all European regions, Flanders ranks high in terms of water scarcity and drought risks. That has several causes.

Many people who live in a small area combined with water-intensive sectors in agriculture and industry lead to high water consumption. When it rains today, however, most of the water enters the sewers and disappears into the sea.

As a result of the high level of urbanisation in Flanders, rainwater cannot sufficiently seep into the soil. As a result, our groundwater reserves are diminishing. The high degree of paving, on the other hand, ensures that the water quickly heads towards the sewers and then ditches, rivers and canals and flows away towards the sea. During heavy rain, this increases the risk of flooding as the sewers or nearby waterways can no longer deal with the volume of water. Canals and drainage pipes also encourage rapid water discharge.

Climate change causes longer periods of drought, alternating with heavy rainfall. As a result, rainwater will have an even harder time seeping into the dry soil, which simultaneously increases the risk of severe flooding significantly.

Water savings

To tackle the aforementioned issues, VITO works on ingenious solutions to better retain and beneficially reuse rainwater. This is done together with various partners within Flanders WaterProof. To achieve this, physical installations were installed at test sites. This allows real data to be collected and evaluated and the measures to be demonstrated at the same time.

In the projects below, VITO used Reporter with a variety of sensors to accurately measure the test set-ups.

Haspengouw and Hageland is one such demonstration where VITO, in close cooperation with the Research Centre for Fruit Growing (pcfruit) and farmers, is looking for ways to make fruit growing resistant to the changing climate.
Robust management of soil and water with the goal of water gain is what they are aiming for here.

Flanders WaterProof for the fruit region

Trials are being carried out at several locations in the fruit region. These include testing measures to reduce runoff on sloping fields and studying how smart irrigation can reduce water consumption without yield loss.

sloping pear orchard VITO pcfruit

The sloping pear field

During heavy downpours, a lot of rainwater is lost on (slightly) sloping fields. For this reason, VITO, in collaboration with pcfruit, investigated exactly how much water is lost and how this 'lost water' (runoff) can be collected and reused.

For this purpose, grids were dug into the bottom of two grass strips where the runoff rainwater collects (left in the photo above). Through a system of pipes and thanks to gravity, this water flows through to reservoirs (right in the photo above) where the water level is measured. Meanwhile, the weather station next to the reservoirs monitors weather conditions and measures precipitation. This allows real-time monitoring of the impact of precipitation on the water level in the reservoirs and calculation of runoff.

More information on this trial can be found in this article: How to increase water infiltration on sloping fruit plots? (Dutch only).

Pear trees with dendrometer

Smart irrigation

Orchards need water to deliver good yields. The exact water needs for irrigation, however, are difficult to determine without using an accurate monitoring system with the necessary sensors (soil moisture, stem thickness, etc.). The photos above show a dendrometer trial setup for stem thickness measurement (left) and a soil moisture measurement trial setup with Watermark sensors (right).

In an effort to transition to more sustainable irrigation methods, VITO and pcfruit are conducting a trial in which the stem thickness of pear trees is measured using dendrometers to track the water requirements of the vegetation.

"At night, the trunk expands as trees absorb maximum moisture through the roots. During the day, the trees shrink. The rate at which they shrink is therefore an indicator of how much moisture a tree absorbs. Do they absorb enough moisture or do they enter a state of stress due to lack of moisture? If the trunk increases less at night than it shrinks during the day, the tree is clearly thirsty." - Flanders WaterProof, efficient water use

The farmer compares this dendrometer data with measurements from soil moisture sensors. This makes it possible to assess more accurately whether irrigation is required already and how much water needs to be given to meet the needs of the crop. This guarantees sustainable water use.

Crodeon's contribution to Smart Agriculture

VITO uses Reporter in combination with weather sensors, level sensors, soil moisture sensors and dendrometers to measure and log the aforementioned projects. Reporter's reliable GSM connection and data streaming to the cloud allow researchers unimpeded data collection with the assurance that everything is stored online.

Reporter a sensor device for remote monitoring next to an orchard

We are proud to support research on Smart Agriculture and sustainable water use together with VITO and we thank them for their trust in Reporter.

Are you looking for a reliable sensor module for remote monitoring and data logging for your farm or agricultural research project? Be sure to contact us!

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