A social science view on sustainable water supply consumption and sanitation in the future
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A social science view on Sustainable Water Supply, Consumption and Sanitation in the Future. Traces of water: UKWIR, London, 2005. Prof. dr. ir. Gert Spaargaren, Environmental Policy Group Wageningen University. Themes to be discussed.

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A social science view on Sustainable Water Supply, Consumption and Sanitation in the Future

Traces of water: UKWIR, London, 2005

Prof. dr. ir. Gert Spaargaren,

Environmental Policy Group

Wageningen University

Themes to be discussed

  • 1. Theoretical approach to Water Supply, Consumption and Sanitation (WSCS)

  • 2. WSS in Europe: 1840 - 2005,

  • 3. New WSCS configurations for SD: what do they look like?

  • 4. Who is going to organise these new configurations, and how?

  • 5. What are driving forces/ main obstacles?

1.Theoretical Perspective: an infrastructural view of domestic water practices

  • Sociological view: citizen-consumers as ‘situated’ agents instead of (rational, conscious, choice-making) individuals

  • DOMUS-project (EU: Lancaster, Lund, Wageningen; 1997 - 2003

    • In what ways do householders take part in or become involved in

    • new, more sustainable arrangement

    • for the handling of water and wastewater (energy and wastes)

    • at neighbourhood and household-levels?

Trust; Info; Identity; Commitment

2. Short history of the water and wastewater systems in Europe (Juuti and Katko, 2005)

  • UK as ‘inventor’ of modern WSS systems

  • From 1840 onwards, ‘modern’ systems for WSS services have spread from UK all over Europe

  • first private, later (around 1900) publicly owned

  • end of 20th century, privatization of WSS in unprecedented scope and content

  • 21th century: UK model still the leading model?

  • Fragmentation, privatization, consumer empowerment

2. Three Paradigms of WSS services since +/- 1840

  • Quantitative and civil engineering

  • Qualitative and (sanitation)chemical engineering

  • since mid 1980’s: Environmental engineering and integrated management







Societal Pressures to include ‘sustainable development’ considerations, criteria and performance- indicators into the organisation of the WSCS networks

3. New configurations to Respond to SD-pressures (a.o. WFD/ EU)

  • What do these WSCS-configurations look like?

    • in practice and in theory;

    • judged from Provider and Consumer perspective

    • with respect to both its technical and socio-cultural dimensions and performance

In practive: Ponton water-recycling system

Re-use of bath and shower water for toilet flushing, washing machine, garden

Pay-back time: 9 years (Germany)

Vacuum toilets and biogas system for cooking

Germany, Okohaus, Freiburg: Eco-high-tech

Freiburg = ‘normal appartments’

  • The Netherlands several pilot projects

    • Wageningen 500

    • Leidsche Rijn/ Utrecht 15.000

  • application of dual (drinking) water system at neighbourhood levels


Water sewage system at neighbourhood level

3. What do the new configurations look like? From a theoretical point of view

Do they resemble the DeSaR-technologies of

the 1970’s- style and form?

  • Small is beautiful/ alternative way of life (socially off..)

  • Stand alone devices/ off grid

  • Eco-projects as ‘gated communities’

  • Low-tech solutions preferred/ soft technologies

  • Community driven, bottom-up development

3. What do the new configurations look like?From a theoretical point of view


do they take the form of ‘Modernized Mixtures’ = combining the best of both central and decentral options

  • Grid-connected decentral options

  • High-tech next to low-tech solutions in one system

  • Integrated into the mainstream built-environment

  • Living up to present demands of high CCC-levels/ compatible with ‘modern life (styles)’

  • Developed by (utility) companies/ providers in creative dialogue with end-users as co-producing civilians

The MISTRA variables to represent dimensions of WSCS




Modernised Mixtures (MM) as alternative to either Centralised (C) or Decentralised (D) options for sustainable (waste) water systems

3. Research on new configurations: looking for technological and socio-cultural projects of MM-type





  • UK…..

3. Some trends in recent WSCS- research

  • Counterposing the ‘DeSaR’ paradigm and the Centralised Systems paradigm no longer fruitful: MM as alternative, emerging concept?

  • Sustainable WSCS-pilots to be developed in different urban settings (new/old; high/low density) at different socio-technical scales

  • Sustainable WSCS are conceived of primarily in technical terms, so there is a recognized need to develop a social/symbolic story-line for WSCS

Succes-stories of end-users constructing new networks of actors, including municipalities, water-boards, builders/ constructors, planners, and producers

Germany; Freiburg Okohaus

The Netherlands; Eva Lanxmeer; Kersetuin; Groene Dak etc.

Sweden: Stockholm, Mistra cases

Stories of partly or completely failed pilot-projects, initiated by (combinations of) Providers (and researchers)

Stroomdal Emmen; Wageningen Rustenburg; Swichum village; Leidsche Rijn Utrecht; Wageningen Noord-West etc.

4. Who is going to organise the new configurations?(Preliminary results of EET-research project WUR)

4. Who is going to organise the new configurations, and how?Research on the Management of the ‘Blue Transition’ (KSI-Bsik):

HYPOTHESIS/ discussion statement

  • “Sustainable niche projects of MM-type will NOT lead to regime-change over the next 15 years, ……unless

  • a meaningful link can be established between the new WSCS-technologies as being applied in provider-dominated networks on the one hand and citizen-consumers as end-users and co-producers of WSCS services on the other”


  • From:


  • making invisible

  • removing as fast as possible

  • detach from sensory

  • experience and perceptions

  • of citizen-consumers

  • To:


  • make visible

  • keep and use as long as possible

  • reconnect to sensory experiences

  • and daily (consumption) routines

  • of citizen consumers

4. This ‘story-line’ has to be derived from the general direction of the ‘blue transition’

5. Driving forces and main obstacles

  • WFD debate and policies in Europe

  • Hightened ‘water-awareness’ world-wide?

  • Integrated approach: connecting different utility systems and services

  • Increasing costs of ‘Serving and Being Served’

    • energy bills: sharp increase (300 euro next year)

    • sewage system renewal: extra costs (50% increase)

    • water quantity policies broadened (doubling of costs)

    • water quality services more expensive (doubling of price ?)

5. Driving forces and main obstacles

Consumers unwilling to pay for ‘the internalization of external costs?

WSS-providers using this as an argument/ excuse for not being pro-active in this field?

  • WSCS-services have been hidden away for too long and gained the status of basic/ normal rights

    (Water-services in between Potatoes and Cars?)


Traces of water: UKWIR, London, 2005

Prof. dr. ir. Gert Spaargaren,

Environmental Policy Group

Wageningen University

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