Magnar Sekse, the director of Bergen Water, talks to Erika Yarrow-Soden about the world-leading work that has brought climate resilience to this Norwegian city.
Magnar Sekse has been at the forefront of Bergen Water’s adoption of nature-based solutions that have created a city that is resilient, biodiverse and good for well-being, with water central to its city planning.
Sekse explains: “As the rainiest city in Europe, rain has always been an issue in Bergen. Since I was a student and got my Master’s degree, I have been working in the water business and especially with stormwater. I had a lot of cooperation with the technical university in Norway and we had an ongoing partnership on stormwater handling and what we then called nature-based solutions. This was the beginning of what we now call blue-green solutions, where you try to copy nature and avoid digging sewers and pipes. As part of that, we created a professional team in Bergen working on this kind of solution and in 2005 we made guidelines for stormwater handling in Bergen, which preferred blue-green solutions.”
In 2005, floods in Bergen resulted in a landslide which took the lives of three people. Sekse says: “That forced us to consider how we adapt to climate change. We collaborated with several other countries in Europe through EU finance projects and we have been working on different projects looking at how we can adapt to climate change. That has created a broad understanding of how we can do this work and also an understanding of the other people that need to be involved in this work, such as city planners and landscape architects and all the people who are responsible for the physical development of the city. We need to work on these matters together to make a robust system that values rainwater and creates a more attractive and more liveable city.”
Bergen was the first city in Norway to adopt a planning system that required developers to incorporate stormwater into their plans, with nature-based solutions given preference.
Communication has been key to the success of Bergen’s transformation, as Sekse explains: “A stakeholder group was created to encourage communication. We had partner meetings and meetings with the public and the Organisation for Bergen Commerce, which represents trade and businesspeople. We also communicated with the media and worked with politicians. That is how we began, but now the focus is on citizens because they need to understand what they can do to help tackle climate change.
“For the past four to five years wellbeing has been the selling point for these solutions. With them you get a robust system, but you also get a system that makes the city more liveable.
“The BEGIN project provides a demonstration of how a grey transport area can be transformed and provide homes for people. There we have lifted up a buried channel where before no-one could see the water. Now the channel will be up front. People will be able to fish in the channel. We are really moving forward with this solution.”
A holistic approach has been central to Bergen’s success. “We have a city architect in Bergen and she is also promoting this blue-green system in city development,” says Sekse. “We have a slogan in the city that this is a city for walking and cycling. The city government is led by a politician from the green party. So, he is also pushing hard on these matters.”
Bergen Water is 60% self-sufficient in energy. “We use renewable energy where we can,” says Sekse. “We try to lower energy needs and consider how we can produce energy through our water and wastewater systems. We make biogas and fertiliser out of the sludge from the wastewater treatment plant and we produce hydropower within our water supply system.
You have to think long term, maybe 100 years, but you also need to think about how you can do things smarter, better, greener
“We are doing research on how we can work to do this in a smarter more efficient way. We are working on a plan to make more power from the hydropower system. When we renovate our pipes, we use a no-dig technology. We try to have a long perspective in what we do. In our wastewater treatment plants, we try to capture the energy used in the system. We try to work on many platforms to use our resources in the best possible way.
“We also work closely with scientists at the university to collaborate on ideas on how we can improve. We are interested in the work of PhD students and how this can help our work and get us up to a higher level in our circular thinking and open our eyes to opportunities that we may not have seen yet.
“You have to think long term, maybe 100 years, but you also need to think of how you can do things smarter, better, greener. We know about predicted future scenarios and we need to consider how we can improve our services for the whole city.” •
IWA Climate Smart Utilities Recognition Programme
Bergen has been recognised by the IWA’s Climate Smart Utilities Recognition Programme. The programme aims to inspire utilities and their stakeholders to transition to become climate smart and embrace cultural shift on three interconnected pillars for action: adaptation, mitigation, and leadership.
The initiative invites utilities that are already taking climate smart action to apply to the IWA Climate Smart Recognition Programme.
Submissions are assessed by an independent panel to qualify the inspirational components of the stories shared and to provide direct feedback to the utility on the actions taken, planned, or still to be addressed.
The first Recognition Programme event was celebrated at the IWA World Water Congress in Copenhagen in September.
Find out about the IWA Climate Smart Utilities initiative at https://iwa-network.org/projects/climate-smart-water-utilities/
The BEGIN project
The BEGIN project is a unique scheme where 10 cities and six research institutes have combined forces to work on blue-green infrastructure solutions and gather learning experiences.
Mindemyren is Bergen’s BEGIN project. Located close to the centre of Bergen, this grey area will be transformed into an attractive green urban area, with once-culverted water opened up.
A two-level canal solution has been chosen, to allow a more flexible design.
In addition to being a local floodway, the top canal will facilitate fish migration and blue-green urban living. The bottom canal will be built to handle a one in 200-year flood.
More information: https://northsearegion.eu/begin/bgi-pilot-projects/bergen/
Bergen’s key achievements and targets
The city aims to be fossil fuel free by 2030, a 1.5-degree city by 2050 and have zero-emission construction sites by 2025.
Bergen developed a Municipal Stormwater Management plan that prioritises stormwater management, ensures that it is integrated in all land use planning and urban development, and ensures that blue-green infrastructure for stormwater management is a mandatory first choice.
A monthly Interdepartmental Stormwater Forum is held to keep stormwater high on the agenda and ensure continuous collaboration.
Bergen has a long history of international collaboration and knowledge-sharing, including more than 12 years of EU projects on climate adaptation, including the ongoing BEGIN project (on blue-green infrastructure through social innovation).
Estimates show that the long-term financial benefits of using blue-green infrastructure to reduce flood risk in the municipality are in the range of €33 million.
Bergen has measures to enable climate adaptation for the forecasted increase rise in sea-level. As low-lying areas are at risk, all new areas below a certain elevation or with larger flood risk require water locks and pumping for wastewater infrastructure. A separate pumping system for wastewater infrastructure has been constructed for the historic ‘Bryggen’ – a central, low-lying, and vulnerable waterfront with UNESCO-listed sites dating back to 1070 that require extra protection.
In the coming years, an interdepartmental risk-based plan for Bergen with regards to the forecasted sea-level rise will be developed, considering the need for greater physical barriers.
Bergen uses a high percentage of trenchless solutions for renewal of pipe infrastructure. In 2020, around 80% of wastewater pipe renewals used this method.
The utility has strived to become carbon neutral since 2018 and has a tool to map its carbon footprint. Bergen Water’s self-developed climate footprint tool includes both direct and indirect emissions, with a level of detail that is not only a leading approach in Norway, but also internationally.
Bergen Water is also involved with IWA’s Climate Smart Utilities initiative and the Norwegian Water Utilities Climate Footprint Tool users forum – where shared experiences with the Bergen tool have been key in shaping a national tool.
From the biogas plant, 100% of the biosolids are sold as fertiliser in Norway, and 100% of the biogas produced is used to fuel buses in Bergen.
In 2021, the first zero-emission construction work of the utility started, using 100% electric excavators.
Read Marie Rødsten Sagen’s full case study at https://iwa-network.org/how-europes-rainiest-city-is-turning-stormwater-into-a-resource/