Dealing with water in cities is challenging in many ways. Issues include the collection and drainage of large volumes of water, as well as wastewater collection and treatment. RIVM provides support by assessing the potential health risks of urban water concepts.

Many projects are being launched in cities to support sustainable water management and/or to offset the consequences of climate change. Examples of such projects are wastewater reuse projects, initiatives to accommodate surplus rainwater in reopened moats, water squares and open meadows. These new urban water concepts also ensure that more people are exposed to water in public spaces in different ways.

However, although new urban water concepts have benefits, contact with urban water can also cause health problems, such as gastrointestinal, skin and respiratory complaints. RIVM, therefore, recommends taking water quality into account in the design, planning and the development of urban water initiatives. Due consideration of that aspect in advance could minimise potential health risks, sometimes with relatively minor modifications, avoiding high costs later on. To support this, RIVM is working on a quantitative water quality check for urban water.

The water quality check will meticulously map out the potential health risks of urban water concepts. Once the potential risks are identified, that information is used to decide which modifications to the urban water concept would reduce the health impact. The water quality check can also be used to review existing initiatives. In addition, a water quality check is also an effective tool for investigating the underlying causes of emergent health problems and disease outbreaks.

Examples of projects involving sustainable water management include wastewater reuse and recovery of resources from wastewater. In addition, projects have been launched to collect surplus rainwater that cannot be drained through the sewer system, such as reopened moats in old city centres, water squares and open meadows. It became apparent that many of the projects and trends dealing with urban water that were mapped out in this overview involved a risk of health problems if people came into contact with the water. The risk probability was determined based on water quality data, the likelihood that people would come into contact with the water, and previously reported cases of illness in comparable projects.

Stakeholders are currently being solicited for involvement in developing the water quality check for urban water into a support guide or tool, to be used to perform risk analyses for urban water and to align actual practice to the tool. Existing and new projects are also being assessed.

See also our topics Healthy Living Environment and Healthy city