When innovation becomes routine, it is time for a standard

Hugo Gastkemper - Director of Stichting RIONED

People are no longer surprised if once or twice a year, following a heavy downpour, the storm drains overflow and big puddles form on the street. Due to climate change and the heavy rain that accompanies it, the sewers are sometimes unable to handle all that water that backs up. And so a queue forms in the sewers. As with snow, it is annoying at times, but it can also be fun to play and splash around in a puddle. Once the downpour stops, the problem is usually over fairly quickly. Our vision as regards climate change – more water disposal where needed, more storage in streets and green spaces where necessary – is in line with the capacity to cope of the current society.

Creating knowledge, sharing knowledge

We have maintained this vision of climate change since 2007 and it appears to work well. Climate change is high on the agenda of Stichting RIONED (RIONED Foundation), the umbrella organization for urban water management and sewerage in Ede, the Netherlands. Our attention is focused not only on rainwater and wastewater, but also on ground and surface water. As a knowledge centre, we acquire new knowledge, take part in research, pool and authorise knowledge, and share our knowledge through websites and publications. The Leidraad Riolering (Sewerage Guide) is one of our bestsellers. The entire sewerage world uses this hefty 2000-page publication which gives a clear picture of the sum total of knowledge about sewerage. Because we do intend that this knowledge should actually be used.

Contrary to what is sometimes said, sewers in the Netherlands are in good order. There is no question of our sewers being threatened with collapse. To make sure of this, local authorities replace or renovate one per cent of the sewerage system every year, and in the Netherlands we spend 1.5 billion euros a year on this. NEN’s Inspection Standard is an important tool. This was introduced 20 years ago, in order to record the state of the sewers in a standardized – and therefore unambiguous – fashion. In which parts of the sewerage system are there cracks and how long and wide are they? All the information is recorded in a prescribed format and can therefore easily be exchanged between the inspection company, the adviser and the contractor. Sewage inspection is of a fairly routine nature and is therefore eminently suitable for a NEN standard.

Data exchange is the future

But I also see the great strength of ISO standards in international cooperation. For this reason, RIONED promotes standardized records and the unobstructed exchange of data.

We do this by developing the Gegevenswoordenboek Stedelijk Water (Urban Water Data Dictionary). Using existing ISO standards, we structure the data and link it to other specialist areas. Data exchange fits in with this era of Building Information Models and integrated management of public space. A lack of sound information about the location of cables and pipes, for example, can lead to excavation damage. This can be avoided with the help of good data exchange. If road authorities, green space managers, water authorities and regional implementation services use the same data, this will improve the efficiency of their work. We are the leader in the sewerage sector and we work together closely with CROW and the Informatiehuis Water. Through NEN committees we maintain contacts with other European countries and seek to join forces to develop a standard that can be used throughout Europe. In my opinion, NEN’s strength lies mainly in this international work.

View here the projects and standardization initiatives related to water.