Minister Harbers opent European Water Technology Week

Toespraak van minister Harbers (IenW) op 19 september 2022 bij de opening van de European Water Technology Week in Leeuwarden. De tekst is alleen in het Engels beschikbaar.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As you might have noticed, in the English program the name of my ministry is translated as ‘Infrastructure and Water Management’.  That sounds very hands on and robust…

But to be honest I think the Dutch name for the water part of my ministry is more significant, more expressive. It is ‘Waterstaat’: the ‘state of the water’

That refers to the situation, the position of the water. 

For most of our history that was exactly what it was about: guarding the water levels. Making sure the position of all our water – from sea and rivers - stayed below the dikes.  To keep the Dutch in a permanent situation of dry feet. As a country that used to be mostly sea, and is the estuary of many European rivers, we always had to worry about the abundance of water, about overflows and floods. Never about shortages and droughts.

That has changed. The last decade we experienced and learned that water is not an inexhaustible source but a scarce resource. We are now painfully aware that water is not only something to fight but something to treasure. ‘Till the last drop.’


So it’s a good thing that ‘Waterstaat’ also refers to the condition and quality of the water. No need for new titles, logos and business cards. ‘Only’ the need for new policies, new rules and, most importantly, new ideas and new technologies. Ideas and technologies to ensure we never run out of water, and that our water is clean and healthy’.

So, what we need are bright people with bright ideas. What we need are engineers and researchers, scientists and technicians, knowledge institutes and entrepreneurs who can think ‘out of the polder’…

And the wonderful thing is: we don’t have to look for them.They are all here.

You are all here. Welcome !

You all participate in this European Water Technology Week to exchange ideas, technologies and best practices to find solutions for the water problems the world is facing. Solutions for water scarcity, water depletion and the need for clean and healthy water. Solutions that will help the water sector to contribute to a circular economy. An economy where every drop counts.

Where better than here in Leeuwarden, the ‘Capital of water technology’, on the Water Campus, hosted by Wetsus, our international innovation institute for sustainable water technology. A unique campus and an unique institute that build on the Dutch reputation as a global water expert. 

The last 20 years the people on this campus and at Wetsus build an innovation ecosystem that integrates knowledge and people to accelerate innovation in all the – old and new – areas of the ‘state of the water’.
Because our problems are too urgent to stick to the old ways where everyone concentrated on their own little pond of research, in their own institute, in their own country.

What we need is a sea of worldwide cooperation to tackle a worldwide challenge. That means: working together, pooling knowledge, people and resources, nurturing and developing talent. 

Wetsus shows us how that can be done: in Wetsus 23 universities and other knowledge institutes work together in an multidisciplinary innovation program that is financed and supported by 110 businesses. 
That way research gets financed and the results of the research projects are quickly enrolled in and adopted by the market and in society.


The WaterCampus provides a very stimulating educational and scientific environment for students in all levels of higher education to learn everything there is to know about water management and technology. With a direct link to the businesses and start-ups that are active in this field, and where they can develop their talents and skills. From idea to market, from talent to product. 

The WaterAlliance is another important link in this chain: they ensure that the innovations developed by Dutch business get international attention. Here in Leeuwarden they created the hub that brings together all other hubs.

Interesting examples of what this hub creates are innovative solutions to counter water waste, especially in the area of re-use. Solutions to make every drop count.

1 solution is invented and developed by Hydraloop, a start-up that is growing rapidly. Hydraloop is a system that can be used in homes and businesses to reuse part of the grey water: lightly contaminated wastewater. 

Together with the Water Alliance, they attended trade fairs in Italy, the USA, and many other countries. 
After they received the 'Best of the Best Award' at CES Las Vegas in 2020, things went very quickly. 
They now have distributors worldwide and production is being scaled up significantly. 

Another example is new sanitation. This concerns the disconnection of toilet water from other sewage water and rainwater by means of vacuum toilets, to be treated locally. This technology is the cheapest way to save 30 percent of drinking water consumption. 

Research in Wageningen and at Wetsus led to the establishment of DeSah in 2005, which in the same year provided the first full-scale demonstration at 32 houses in Sneek, a town in this area. Desah realized the complete design for the new wastewater treatment installation in which black water, grey water and food waste is collected and treated separately. The technology is now being used in various places in the Netherlands and abroad, it is getting a lot of international attention and won a global water award. 

2 Dutch products we can be proud of. And there is more: research into brine treatment, resource recovery, micro pollution, decentralisation of water treatment, alternative desalination, water smart cities, …
Yes, what happens here in Leeuwarden is essential, is crucial for ‘the state of the water’ and therefore of national importance.The Dutch government acknowledges that, and I am very happy to announce that we have agreed to continue to support Wetsus financially for the next 10 years .

(Gaat om langjarige subsidie van OCW, in mei aan Kamer bekendgemaakt)

We also stimulate research and development by supporting a project on water technology in our National Growth Fund, specifically aimed at boosting new technology for cleaner water, stimulating circularity and the reuse of water. This project will make use of the research capacities  of Wetsus and WaterCampus, as well as its working methods with the focus on cooperation in the ‘golden triangle’: between national government, knowledge institutions and the business community.  

Because cooperation and partnership is the only way forward. Not only on national level, but also internationally.

In a European context, we also work together in the golden triangle, including Wetsus in the European partnership Water4all, Watersecurity for the planet. On September 1, the first transnational research call was launched: “Management of water resources: resilience, adaptation and mitigation to hydroclimatic extreme events and management tools”. 29 countries will conduct research together to respond more efficiently to new water issues related to extreme events such as drought.

On a global level we have to acknowledge that we are behind on the work for Sustainable Development Goal 6 – Clean water and sanitation.The next 8 years we have to catch up. That is why the Netherlands, together with Tajikistan and the United Nations, are organizing the UN Global Water Conference in New York in March 2023. 

What we want to achieve is stronger international cooperation towards an integrated, inclusive and preventive approach to water challenges within the UN-system. 1 of the conference outcomes will be  a ‘Global Water Action Agenda’ 

But we all know that we have to do more than that. We all know that water is not only the focus of Sustainable Development Goal 6 – Clean water and sanitation – and 14 – Life below water  - but often essential for the other SDG’s: for our health and food, energy and infrastructure,  sustainable cities and economic growth. 


That is why I am very pleased to welcome you all here in Leeuwarden. We need you to do the thinking, to do the work, to share your thoughts, ideas and projects. Because ‘the state of the water’ is not only my ministerial responsibility, but the responsibility of all of us. For our safety and our health, for our lives and our planet.

And if you have a moment, maybe you can also find a nice innovation that will enable Wetsus to make the Dutch extremely happy: an innovation that will enable us to turn all the water surrounding Leeuwarden into ice. Just for 1 day.. 

So we can finally have our legendary skating competition again: the Eleven Cities Tour. We would be very grateful….

Thank you!