The Flemish Environment Agency (VMM) and the Province of East-Flanders (PoV) are jointly coordinating a pilot project in the Zwalmbeek river catchment in East Flanders. It aims to co-create a ‘river contract’ (due in 2021) with a broad range of stakeholders, containing commitments to collaboratively define and implement concrete actions to reduce flood risks in the short and long term.
The river contract will stipulate a pathway of measures to be implemented by different actors in order to reduce the impact of flooding. The pathway will be developed to encompass spatial development of the valley, and the measures required to adapt to expected climate change impacts and flood risk. Rather than being an all-encompassing vision for the valley, the Zwalmbeek river contract focuses on actions to reduce flood risk based on voluntary, co-created commitments. It also promoted added-value benefits in terms of public space, ecology, recreation and so on.
Collaboratively defined and implemented actions may vary in scale from small, such as stewardship for a specific stream by an individual, to substantial; for example, a water manager developing a new controlled flooding zone. A key guiding principle is that all stakeholders themselves, be they citizens, farmers, NGOs, water managers or government authorities, will define the actions they are willing to commit to.
We formed a steering committee of local, provincial, and regional authorities to manage the project, and help develop a sense of ownership right from the start. We also regularly presented updates to all the city councils involved, having leaned the importance of being aware of political sensitivities on a similar project in the Maarkebeek valley.
The project involved both offline and online participation. We invited all residents to take part in an online flood risk test, which gave them an insight into their current situation, and the potential future risks created by climate change. We then held workshops bringing together a broad range of stakeholders, including citizens, politicians, businesses, farmers, insurance companies, water managers and local, provincial and regional officers, in which we analysed the problem and started thinking about possible solutions.
Based on the findings of these participatory events, we began working on specific themes, such as waterways maintenance and management, and the roles of agriculture and spatial planning. For each area, we set up research-by-design workshops combining round-table sessions with field visits, using the STAR2Cs Knowledge Service stakeholder analysis tool to help us select appropriate stakeholders.
For more information on the development of the river contract, please visit zwalmbeek.riviercontract.be.