Technological Centre

Foto de portada proyecto NICE H2020

H2020 NICE bets on nature-based solutions for the urban water cycle

NICE, a new European H2020 project, coordinated by CETIM, started on 1 June.

NICE – INNOVATIVE AND ENHANCED NATURE-BASED SOLUTIONS FOR SUSTAINABLE URBAN WATER CYCLE will be implemented jointly with an international consortium composed of 14 partners from several European countries, Egypt and Colombia, including AQUALIA, a leader in water cycle management in Spain and Europe.

Water scarcity is a problem that today affects 40% of the world’s inhabitants and is increasing with the growth of the urban population and due to climate change.

 The urban water cycle offers significant optimisation opportunities to increase water availability through reclamation:

  • For domestic water, this consists of grey water (water from showering, washing clothes, dishes, etc.) and black water from toilets. Grey water, properly treated, can be recovered for uses such as refilling cisterns or watering gardens.
  • Rainwater is a problem in paved areas. These surfaces prevent infiltration into underground aquifers, which can lead to flooding during rainfall events. In addition, runoff water carries various pollutants such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) or heavy metals, among others. In the absence of a separative network, rainfall also increases the flow of water reaching wastewater treatment plants, which sometimes exceeds their capacity and means that part of this combined effluent has to be discharged without being adequately treated.
  • In the vicinity of cities, the so-called “urban stream syndrome” affects river basins and other water bodies. This phenomenon consists of ecological degradation caused by the leaching of large amounts of nutrients and pollutants from urban areas.

By 2050, it is estimated that 68% of the population will live in cities, overpopulated at the expense of the emptying of the hinterland. Urban centres will face extreme weather events and more pronounced droughts. In this context, it will be essential to improve urban water management, reducing consumption as much as possible and promoting its reuse. This is the basis of the NICE Project (Nature-based Innovative and Improved Solutions for a Sustainable Urban Water Cycle).

In this context, and in line with the European Biodiversity Strategy, the overall objective of NICE is to expand the availability and promote the use of different Nature-Based Solutions (NBS) to solve different urban water cycle issues, expanding the availability of water.

In this way NICE will contribute to the development of knowledge and key innovations for the design and implementation of NBS, closing the urban water cycle. In this sense, the solutions developed at NICE will enable: the reuse of water, for example, through greywater reuse systems in households that would serve to recharge cisterns, irrigation or flushing after an on-site treatment process; the mitigation of pollution through stormwater management in cities, with combined drains, contributing to flood control; and participating in the improvement of cities by incorporating green elements in the urban landscape.

NBS, such as Green Walls or Vegetated rooftops on buildings, Rain gardens or Hybrid subsurface wetlands, have other benefits associated with the increase of plant species in the urban landscape, such as reducing heat stress in cities (up to 13º C difference), improving air quality, or capturing CO2. They also allow the elimination of emerging pollutants (pharmaceuticals, pesticides and other chemical substances) that are found in very low concentrations (ng/L – μg/L) and whose elimination with conventional water treatment methods is not very effective.

NICE is committed to these nature-based technologies and will bring these laboratory solutions to real urban environments in an ambitious plan that includes the establishment of a network of real urban laboratories (URLs) in 11 cities spread across 5 European countries (Spain, France, Italy, Denmark and Poland) and 2 international ones (Colombia and Egypt). In addition to these, seven partner cities around the world will work together in the Committee of Cities (CoC).

The installation of urban laboratories in these locations will make it possible to demonstrate the viability of the different technologies for problems associated with the climates and ecosystems of the different regions. The experience of the project will allow the creation, from an end-user-centred approach, of a Design, Implementation, Integration and Management Guide for these solutions, as well as an open access modelling software tool. To achieve an optimal outcome, work will be carried out with strategic actors related to the water cycle: policy makers, urban authorities, water companies and utilities, funding agencies and civil society, including citizens, through the work of the Advisory Board (SSAP).

NICE will contribute with its research to the work of the European Commission’s Natural Solutions Task Forces, led by the Network Nature initiative, which brings together all Natural Solutions Projects (NBS) that have received European funding.