Wetenschap - 18 november 2010

Water management depends on technical knowhow

Technical knowledge is neglected in water management degree programmes, says Elgard van Leeuwen, lecturer in Integral Water Management at Van Hall Larenstein. Van Leeuwen is adviser at Deltares and also teaches at the Technical University of Delft. Students need to learn more than how to conduct surveys; they especially need insight and knowledge about water management, Van Leeuwis argues.

'The subjects tackled in water management courses are fashion-prone. Ten years ago, it was all about drought, before that it was all about acidification, and now it's all about the effects of climate change.
A Water Management degree programme should not focus on such themes, but on the underlying water-related processes, which do not change as fast. The essence of water management is intervention. And to be able to intervene effectively, you have to know how the system works.
Technology does not exist to oppose nature; they go together very well. For example, if you expand the capacity of a pump house, you can adjust water levels in a nature area better to the ecosystem. This gives you the scope to create particular types of natural environment.
I have been seeing a one-sided emphasis on communication and processes in spatial planning not just in Velp but also in other Water Management programmes, and at Alterra. On the other hand, Wageningen scientists are more down to earth than their Delft counterparts. They know the qualities of the physical environment and they like to be out of doors. You can see that in the Land and Water Management programme in Velp, which grew out of a programme on irrigation. So we should cherish these strong points, and develop a stronger track on the technical side as well.
Students should not restrict themselves to conducting surveys and gathering opinions. They would be better off spending time on analyzing problems and getting to grips with water systems. If everyone involved in future projects wants to play the visionary, it is the applied sciences graduates who will have to use some common sense and sift the viable ideas from the nonsense. And to play that role you need a lot of scientific and technical knowledge. Teachers sometimes accuse me of trying to change this into a technical college. On the contrary, what I want is a good alternative to technical college. I want to be able to compete with people who have the technical skills and feel committed to complex delta issues.  With more technical knowledge you can really do something with that commitment.'

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