22 March 2024

Revaluing our water management approach for resilience

National and international discussions on the importance of preserving the quantity and quality of water ecosystems too often neglect local and regional governments’ policies. At the same time, local communities hold immense knowledge to best address the challenges they face related to water management and resilience.

But before we explore how cities can deploy their power, allow us to give you a challenge: Name a city in Europe - or the World - not located next to a body of water?

Over 50% of the world’s population lives less than three kilometres away from freshwater sources. And yet at the international level, little attention has been paid to protecting urban waterfronts, and for many years, perhaps even under-prioritised when it came to addressing local action. This, however, is changing with increased focus on the importance of resilience driven by the real-world consequences of climate change, including droughts, more intense and frequent rainstorms and water contamination issues, but also supported by an increased acceptance and use of Nature-based Solutions and a willingness to commit to climate action.

Local action to inspire resilience

When it comes to pushing forward an inclusive, integrated and innovative approach to water resilience and urban quality of life on waterfronts, ICLEI Members are ready with examples to inspire the call to action.

We see this with ICLEI Member İzmir (Turkey), where the municipality delivered on a large ecological corridor spanning 41,000 m² including the linkage of a local stream to the sea and employing permeable surfaces to recharge groundwater and prevent flooding. The area serves not only as a green space in the city, but is also a tool in the city’s arsenal to fight flooding, which is already happening and is expected to increase in the future.

But the city’s efforts do not end there and are anchored in more than single projects. Alongside ICLEI, the Municipality is engaged in a new partnership, Re-Value, seeking to develop climate neutral waterfront areas, engaging and co-creating with residents in the planning process- and designing the future of its waterfront area. Through the partnership, İzmir seeks to collaboratively work with its local stakeholders to align its wider goals and actions on climate neutrality with related strategies. For example the İzmir Sponge City programme aims to manage stormwater runoff and enhance flood resilience through green infrastructure and sustainable water management practices.

Another ICLEI Member taking urban planning and design of waterfront areas to the next level in the Re-Value partnership is Burgas (Bulgaria). Surrounded by shallow saltwater lakes and located on the Black Sea coast, the water-based ecosystem in Burgas is equally enriching and fragile.

The city is using environmentally friendly urban solutions to strive for climate neutrality in its territorial coastal area, integrate the specific roadmaps developed for sustainable development and integrate its coastal areas into wider city strategies.

Leadership needed at the EU level

Actions at the local level need to be supported by legislation at the national and EU level as well. Recently, a new Water Resilience Initiative by the European Commission was withdrawn from the agenda ahead of the EU elections. The Initiative was meant to be the EU’s overarching water strategy to address sustainable water use and climate change resilience.

The withdrawal – or hopefully, delay – came as a surprise to many, and was not accepted by elected representatives from the European Economic and Social Committee, European Parliament and European Committee of the Regions. Following hearings in Brussels (Belgium), they jointly called on the European Commission to promptly adopt the comprehensive approach to water, once again calling for an EU Blue Deal. On 5 March, ICLEI Europe signed an open letter, organised by the WWF, alongside 27 organisations and NGOs to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to protect EU freshwater and marine ecosystems.

Vasileios Latinos, Head of Resilience and Climate Adaptation at ICLEI Europe, was called to advise the European Committee of the Regions at their stakeholder consultation hearings, and explains, "Water resilience is the cornerstone of urban prosperity, safeguarding vulnerable communities and fostering economic growth. Embracing digitalisation, conservation, and innovation is crucial for cities to unlock their potential and for that to be possible we need collaboration across governments on all levels, corporations, and communities. Hopefully, a new push on this will be successful and deliver concrete plans for delivery before the European elections in June.

ICLEI Europe is further recognising the importance of water resilience and the Blue Economy at the upcoming European Urban Resilience Forum (EURESFO) held in ICLEI Member Valencia (Spain) from 26-28 June. It will be one of the conference's main thematic areas of focus, devoting sessions to water-based adaptation solutions, policies and regulations on water resilience, and accelerating the transition to a blue economy.

So today on World Water Day, let’s recognise the value that water plays in building not only sustainable, but resilient cities.