INBO Research Challenges

Sustainable water system restoration

Despite the roll-out of integrated water policies in recent decades, wetland ecosystems in Flanders remain under great pressure. The highly disturbed water balance, low structural quality, high water consumption and the input of environmentally harmful substances make it difficult to reach environmental and biodiversity targets. Climate change makes Flanders especially vulnerable to water scarcity and flooding.

Effective water policy and management requires a thorough integrated systems approach in which the natural functioning of the water system in the landscape is restored. To curb droughts and flooding, spatial policy processes must take water, soil and climate into account. Nature-based solutions are appropriate to this end. These are measures aimed at restoring natural processes to meet societal needs. In this process, multifunctional use and nature values go hand in hand. For the water system, it is necessary to manage quantity, quality and dynamics of ground and surface water in the right spatial context. We must also look at terrestrial habitats, which help influence the functioning of our water systems.

INBO focuses on the following research challenges:

  1. Defining ecological preconditions to restore and maintain water-bound nature and groundwater-dependent ecosystems. This includes the determination of more natural drainage regimes (e-flows, free-flowing rivers), area-specific GGORs (desired ground and surface water regimes) and ecohydrological standards for floodwater and groundwater quality.
  2. Striking a balance between rolling out nature-based solutions and achieving current nature targets. Due to limited water quality combined with lack of space, the restoration of wetlands increasingly conflicts with targets, including for terrestrial vegetation in valley areas. It is desirable to prioritize target species and habitats, delineate more realistic targets and scale up and connect water-related nature.
  3. Pursuing sustainable water use and management. Among other things, we want to explore strategies to reduce the impact of sewage overflows on aquatic biodiversity, examine the impact of chemical erosion and aqua and geothermal energy on biodiversity, develop a policy framework to avoid the negative ecological impacts of small-scale hydropower, and map the ecosystem services of clear, deep lakes.
  4. Evaluation of realized measures and projects for aquatic nature in Flanders in the wake of 25 years of integrated water policy. We do this in close cooperation with other research institutes.
  5. Development of a cross-entity knowledge hub 'nature-based water system restoration' bringing together multidisciplinary expertise from the various Flemish research institutes.


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