Can Brussels rely on imported water?

Solène writes*

Belgium is ranked 23rd out of 164 countries with water stress exposure by the World Research Institute, meaning that it is the third country in Europe facing the most important water scarcity []. Knowing that it rains between 150 and 200 days per year, it is difficult to imagine that the country faces water issues. However, the water is not allocated equally throughout the country.

Indeed, the natural environment has an important role in the way people have access to water. First, Brussels lies at a lower elevation than the surrounding region of Wallonia. Moreover, it also rains more in the south of the country than in the north. Finally, the ground composition is different depending on the North or the South as Wallonia’s ground tends to collect and keep the water. In addition to those natural environment dispositions, as Brussels is the biggest city in Belgium, its area is superpopulated and urbanised, and its most of its surface is impermeable — compared to 15% in  Wallonia []. Furthemore, Brussels doesn’t have a river big enough to sustain its water consumption. That’s why the capital is dependant on Wallonia concerning its water supply [].

In order to satisfy the water needs of the country, a collaboration between Vivaqua, the company in charge of conveying the water in Brussels and the Société Wallone de Eaux (Company of the Wallonian water) has been set up in order to extract enough water from the Meuse as well as from Wallon aquifers. Wallonia provides 97.4% of Brussels’ water.

With the summers becoming drier because of climate change, stress about water becomes more important in the North, impacting the South because it depletes aquifers at a rate that is not sustainable.

Moreover, in order to limit its economic dependence on Wallonia, Flanders decided to take more water from the Albert Canal, which links Liege and Antwerp and is a major economic axis. In drought periods, this action could involve a decrease in the water level which could impact negatively economic activities that depends on it[].

In the years to come, as scarcity will become a bigger issue, we can then expect more tension between the two regions. However, as Belgium lies in the heart of different international basins and has to find means to cooperate with different countries. We can hope that the different regions will be able to work together [].

Bottom Line: In Belgium, water management is stressed by climate change as it becomes scarce. The question is: are the different regions going to help each other and share the resources or is it going to create more tensions?

* Please help my Water Scarcity students by commenting on unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data sources, or maybe just saying something nice 🙂

Author: David Zetland

I'm a political-economist from California who now lives in Amsterdam.

One thought on “Can Brussels rely on imported water?”

  1. Learning about water stress in Belgium and the increasing tensions between the different regions was so interesting. It’s amazing that a small country like Belgium can have such radically different water situations across the country. You mentioned the issue with Brussels’ impermeable surfaces, is the city doing anything to address this? Some cities facing similar problems have started projects to bring more green spaces/permeable surfaces to the city, does Brussels intend to do the same?

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