3.3 Sustainable water stewardship


Water availability varies dramatically, both in Europe and worldwide. Some regions suffer from severe water deficit, affecting forest growth and forest stewardship. At the same time, in most cases forests are a prerequisite for the sustainable supply of water used in a great variety of processes in forest-based industries.
Water supply is an ecosystem service provided by forests and in this context industrial water use is directly and indirectly dependent on a well-functioning forest ecosystem. Likewise pulp and paper mills depend on a sustainable water supply, even though they are gradually reducing the intake of water by closing the water loops.
The principal role of forests in the hydrological cycle is well known. However, the importance of individual hydrological processes (e.g. infiltration, evapotranspiration and run-off) differs depending on climate and soil conditions, as well as on vegetation (e.g. tree species mixture). Such differences need more attention to enable forest management to adapt to regional conditions.

State of the Art 2012

Internal water treatment techniques have been developed for the cleaning of process water. Membrane and evaporation techniques have been successfully tested on an industrial scale. Due to the relatively-high volumes of water used, treatment tends to be very expensive. In addition it increases energy consumption in the production process. Water cost alone, however, is not sufficient to justify the investment cost in water technologies. Other elements also need to be considered, such as regional scarcity of water.

Expected achievements by 2020

Improved and adapted hydrological models able to assess the effect of forests on rainfall patterns and water availability in relation to geographical variations, vegetation or tree species mixtures, management interventions and climate change, allow for accurate predictions of the quality and quantity of available water resources. Regional problems with water supply have resulted in new quantitative models able to assess the economic value of secured water supply. Revenues are created from recovered dissolved and colloidal compounds and from recovered heat from process water. The enhanced performance of effluent treatment plants with improved control of microbiological processes mitigating slime, odour and corrosion reduces environmental impact. A value-added utilisation of sludge for green energy generation or nutrients for agriculture is established. Cascade re-use of wastewater between different value chains is recognised as safe and sustainable.

Required Research and Innovation Activities 

Rural water systems:

A. Study the effects of various forest management practices on water use and lifecycle perspective in a context of climate change, ecosystems and biodiversity.

B. Eco-climatological research on the effects of forests on rainfall patterns on a continental scale.
C. Hydrological and hydro-chemical modelling focussing on combined effects of climate change, tree species choice and mixtures as well as management regimes in different geographical settings.
D. Research on quantification of the economic value of the ecosystem service, ‘sustainable water supply’.

Industrial water systems

E. Improve separation and cleaning technologies (using physical chemistry and/or industrial biotechnology) for a further closure of water cycles and to reduce the amount of effluent.
F. Develop innovative technologies for the valueadded use of separated and extracted components from wastewater treatment.
G. Invent new concepts for the re-use of treated water, for example, industrial symbiosis.
H. Engineer new concepts for heat recovery from water cycles and their value-added utilisation.
I. Integrate new technologies in existing process water systems in order to further improve optimal water use.
J. Ensure or enhance the microbiological stability of industrial water systems.