Young talents work on InspirAgua cases at Wetskills Colombia

From May 27 to June 7, 'Wetskills Water Challenge' takes place in Cartagena, Colombia. Colombian partners of the Blue Deal programme InspirAgua provide 2 interesting cases that young water professionals will work on. 6 of these young talents participate through InspirAgua.

Programme manager Ellen Bollen: “With Wetskills we get a fresh look at water issues in Colombia. It is a great opportunity for young professionals to gain international experience and we are very curious about their solutions. So, it’s a win-win situation!”

What is Wetskills?

Wetskills is a programme that brings together young people from all over the world. They spend 2 weeks searching for creative solutions to water problems in a changing world. Every year, there are Wetskills challenges in a number of countries across the continents. Wetskills already visited Colombia in 2018.

2 InspirAgua cases

3 candidates from Dutch Water Authorities and 3 candidates from the Colombian Corporaciones Autónomas Regionales (CARs), among others, will be working on the cases. The CARs CDMB and Cundinamarca provide 2 of the 3 cases on behalf of InspirAgua. One case covers the unpredictable droughts in the Tona River. How can we create flexible water availability there? The other case concerns the Río Frío microbasin. How can we use water sustainably as a stimulant for socio-economic growth?

The results will be presented on June 7 at the Acodal international conference Water, Sanitation, Environment and Renewable Energy. InspirAgua will be present in the Dutch Pavilion of Holland House.

What is InspirAgua?

InspirAgua stands for cooperation and exchange for clean, safe and sufficient water in Colombia and the Netherlands. The Blue Deal programme aims to improve water conditions by 2030 for 15 million Colombians in the Rio Magdalena basin. The Blue Deal programme works with national and regional partners on climate-proof and socially inclusive water management. We are committed to making working plans for river basins, an adequate crisis organisation, knowledge and insight based on data, purifying wastewater, and prevention and enforcement of pollution. Through collaboration and knowledge exchange on these themes, we will become better water managers in both Colombia and the Netherlands.

Experts on wastewater management share best practices in Colombia

InspirAgua is the Blue Deal programme on knowledge exchange in water governance in Colombia and the Netherlands. A technical conference was held from March 4 to 6 in Bogotá on the topics associated with the management of municipal wastewater.

This included topics such as: the remuneration rate for discharges, the management of rainwater, the management of bio solids, the control and permission of discharges into the sewage network, and the technical skills of the personnel in charge of the operation of the wastewater treatment systems.

Who participated?

The participants in this technical conference were the public service companies and environmental authorities that make up the regional nodes of Caldas, Huila and Valle del Cauca (Acuavalle, Aguas de Manizales, Corpocaldas, CAM, CVC and Empocaldas), Andesco, and ASOCARS. Also present were representatives of the ministries of Housing, City and Territory and Environment and Sustainable Development, the National Department of Planning, and Dutch Water Authorities.

Different actors, same goal

The event had 3 thematic axes as emphasis: the remuneration rate, bio solids, control and permitting of discharges into the sewer. And of course there was an important exchange of experiences in the area.
“It was very beneficial, because we can conclude that the different actors who are here want the same thing. It is noted that although we are different entities between service providers and ministries, we agree that there must be greater coordination to achieve better results in the future,” says Hans Geerse, coordinator within the InspirAgua programme from Dutch Water Authorities.

Technical sessions

Technical sessions dealt with the management of assets related to risks in urban sewage systems, such as experiences with the management of biosolids in the Netherlands. On the second day, a visit to the Salitre WWTP operated by the affiliated company Empresa de Acueducto y Alcantarillado de Bogotá (EAAB), allowed visitors from the Netherlands to see first-hand the technological level and size of one of the most important wastewater treatment plants in Colombia.

National strategies for monitoring and control

For the last day of the event, presentations focused on national strategies for monitoring and control, such as strategies for detecting illegal discharges and the relevance of the issue of permits (and the necessary adjustments) to improve the quality of surface waters. A Dutch example was given by Andras Koops, who presented the Dutch Water Innovation Prize winner ‘Facade control’ (see video in Dutch and Spanish).

Joint agenda

At the end of the conference, a plenary session was held to reflect and find common points on all the topics addressed in the previous sessions. These included adjustments on the economic instrument of the remuneration rate, an update of the protocol for monitoring discharges, and a training plan for wastewater treatment plants operators. A joint agenda will be defined with ASOCARS and with the support of the Blue Deal. Technical spaces will be developed on control protocols for discharges into the sewer for the development of capacities of the affiliated companies. All in all, an important meeting of sector experts in favour of strengthening the sector and creating alliances and improvement strategies.

Summit on water governance in Colombia prioritised 4 lines of action

100 expert professionals from Corporaciones Autónomas Regionales (CAR) all over Colombia gathered on November 23 and 24 in Barranquilla to discuss the future of water governance in Colombia.

Experts from InspirAgua (Blue Deal), the CAR, SEI, Esri, IDEAM and the Ministry of the Environment, among others, met to share the progress of the work in water governance. The Asociación Corporaciones Autónomas Regionales (ASOCARS) and Blue Deal Programme InspirAgua organised the event together with the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), the Environmental Systems Research Institute Colombia (ESRI) and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (COSUDE). The event was hosted by Corporación Autónoma Regional del Atlantico (CRA).

Strengthened partnerships and knowledge networks

This unique gathering of water experts throughout Colombia represents an important step towards the 2030 Blue Deal Colombia goals of strengthened partnerships and knowledge networks in the country. Four lines of action were formulated. Wastewater (with an active program in Caldas, Valle del Cauca and Huila), Groundwater; permits, control and monitoring of discharges; and planning (water boundary, decision-making and modeling tools) were prioritized to be further elaborated in 2024.

Important guests

The event was attended by 31 of the 33 environmental authorities CAR, Fabián Caicedo, director of water resources at the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, experts of the Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies (IDEAM), National Planning Department (DNP), the Ministry of Interior, Justice and Decentralization of the Government of Honduras, the Antioquia Science and Technology Center -CTA and the University of Antioquia.

High-quality knowledge

Ellen Bollen, director of Blue Deal InspirAgua in Colombia, pointed out that: “There is a lot of high-quality knowledge in Colombia and in the CARs. InspirAgua wants to connect, share, and contribute through an exchange programme for all CARs through ASOCARS. Meeting up and sharing our practices are essential for our ability to tackle big challenges in water management now and in the future. We identified wants and needs for knowledge exchange to further elaborate and I’m proud of InspirAgua and its partners who made it come together.”

Regional lessons from 30 years of existence

During the last 30 years, the CARs have worked on water management in 124 hydrographic basins, covering 28.6 million hectares, and 87 POMCAS approved by 2023 at the national level are reported. “These spaces for dialogue around water governance are essential to identify regional lessons learned from work carried out by the CARs during the 30 years of existence of the SINA, in search of contributing to the National Policy for Integral Management of Water Resources, to the implementation of the National Development Plan, and the future Four-Year Action Plans of the CARs,” said Ramón Leal Leal, director of Asocars.

Management 4 largest Blue Deal partnerships exchanges knowledge

On September 7, the Dutch management of the 4 largest Blue Deal partnerships came together in the Dutch province Fryslân for a meeting. The objective for this gathering was: how can we learn from each other about managing large partnerships?

The meeting was amongst the partnerships of Mozambique, Colombia, Eswatini and South Africa. The managers were invited to Friesland, at the invitation of the partnership manager of Mozambique, of which Wetterskip Fryslân (the Dutch water authority in the area of Fryslân) is the lead partner. This was the third time that the major partnerships organized such a consultation. This time was extra special, thanks to a boat trip through the beautiful Alde Feanen nature reserve.

Topics to discuss

The colleagues exchanged, for example, their experiences with working with a so-called ‘talking sheet’. This sheets makes it visible which Blue Deal topics the partnership is working on, and where there are topics that still need to be addressed. “It helps to establish a relationship of the concrete activities which are implemented with the longer-term goals,” says one of the participants. “Large partnerships deal with many people and interests. Visualising this helps to get an overview of how all our activities contribute to our larger goals, and what we should continue or stop.”

The participants also discussed, among other things, their annual plans for 2024, presented to each other how they have organised their partnerships and discussed decentralization in one of the partner countries. They also covered the safety assessments of work visits, finances, accountability, and much more.

Learning from each other

An important part of the Blue Deal is learning from each other. Therefore, the Blue Deal learning programme also includes a training for new partnership managers. Thanks to this joint intervision of the partnership managers, the 4 largest partnerships are now going one step further to exchange knowledge with each other.

Busy InspirAgua summer

Slowly working towards the summer, for many people this applies in the months of June and July. But this was definitely not the case for the Blue Deal programme in Colombia, called InspirAgua. 2 work visits took place in June and July, 1 in the Netherlands and 1 in Colombia.

In June, 8 Colombian colleagues joined the first Blue Deal congress in Amsterdam to participate in workshops and field visits, together with Blue Deal colleagues from all over the world. After 3 days of congress the work visit continued with various activities. The Colombians visited a waste water treatment in Zutphen, came to see the challenges we face within the peat meadow areas, talked about ‘adaptive pathways’ and saw examples of the ‘Ruimte voor de Rivier’-project (‘Room for the River’), in which there is more space for water in rivers to avoid flooding and other water related problems.

In July, 13 Dutch InspirAgueros went to Colombia to continue working on the different topics within the InspirAgua programme. Along the Río Magdalena we worked on Nature Based Solutions and a stakeholder network to improve the cooperation of all the parties involved, in order to protect the river and the people. In the northeast we continued working on participatory monitoring and how to actually apply the useful data you gather. The focus in the south was partly on making use of data, but also involved the further development of an action plan for waste water treatment.

Overall, InspirAgua had a productive summer in which we not only worked together on the work that has to be done, but we also managed to strengthen the relationships between our partners and colleagues.

Work visit to Colombia: collaboration, contracts, and culture

During the work visit in February and March, Dutch colleagues within the Blue Deal programme InspirAgua visited Colombia to assist their Colombian counterparts in the regions of Caldas, Santander, Huila, Valle de Cauca and Bogotá. A memorable visit in which the continuation of the programme was endorsed by the Colombian partners.

Agreements for Phase 2 of the Blue Deal were signed with regional environmental and water authorities (CARs) CAM, CAS, CDMB, CVC, Corpocaldas and national association ASOCARS, as well as with the administration of the Santander department and with water companies Empocaldas, Aguas de Manizales, Acuavalle and Aguas del Huila. A new partner of the programme is Andesco, an umbrella organization for public service companies. Cormagdalena will follow in April.

Cooperation agreements

InspirAgua’s CAR partners formalized the agreement at the ASOCARS General Assembly, in the midst of the impressive nature of Nuquí on the Pacific coast of the Department of Chocó. There, 21 Colombian CARs gathered for this annual meeting, where they also signed the ‘Alliance for Protected Areas of Colombia’.

Director of the Dutch water authority Rijn en IJssel, Rudi Gerard, explained the method of water governance in the Netherlands, followed by Michelle Talsma of STOWA, who emphasized the importance of collaboration in knowledge development. A retrospective on Phase 1 and preview of Phase 2 of the programme was given by Ellen Bollen, programme manager of InspirAgua. Director of the Dutch water authority De Dommel, Marit Borst, signed the cooperation agreements on behalf of Watergraaf Erik de Ridder.

The programme also aroused interest among Colombian directors who were not yet affiliated with InspirAgua. It has been agreed that the results and knowledge gained will be shared horizontally with all CARs led by ASOCARS.

Working together in different cultures

Contacts and collaboration within InspirAgua intensify as time progresses and goals for 2030 are set. All the more reason to zoom into cultural denominators of our ‘way of working’ for a better understanding and effective cooperation, such as communicating, scheduling, deciding, trusting, and more. ‘Culture coach’ Sylvia van Glabbeek hosted workshops on intercultural cooperation in Manizales and Cali attended by Dutch and Colombian InspirAgueros. Simple examples like difference in the planning of a personal agenda sparked animated conversations and the exchange of ideas, as noted by a participant in Manizales. Work on the relational level is important for the technical and instrumental efforts of InspirAgua members. Interested in what those are? Visit InspirAgua on LinkedIn.

Blue Deal Colombia ‘InspirAgua’ signs new cooperation agreements

On March 9, Marit Borst, director of the Dutch water authority De Dommel, signed cooperation agreements until 2030 with Colombian partner authorities of InspirAgua, the Colombian Blue Deal programme. With these agreements the cooperation between Colombian and Dutch water professionals will be continued for Phase 2 of the Blue Deal.

Since 2018, InspirAgua is active in 5 regions within Colombia. We work on topics such as participatory monitoring, waste water treatment, crisis management, improving water quality and licenses and control. In Colombia, Dutch professionals share knowledge and experience. At the same time, Colombian colleagues bring in more information about coping with drought, flash floods and extreme precipitation.

Results Phase 1

During Phase 1 of the programme, the main focus was to establish a strong relationship based on trust and experience. It brought multiple results, for example in the regions Santander, Caldas and Huila. In Santander, local people were stimulated to collect data about the quality of water to improve decision making on a higher level. In Caldas, we are currently improving the water quality of the Río Chinchiná by reducing the discharge of waste water, without using a sewer system. And in Huila we are helping to organize crisis management, to act more precisely during crisis situations.

Ready for Phase 2

For the next years the work within InspirAgua will keep following the topics that were defined earlier. And as in line with the goals of the Blue Deal, in Phase 2 the focus will also be on bringing knowledge from Colombia to the Netherlands. With the new agreements with our partners, and even a signing with a new partner, InspirAgua is ready for the next years. Agreements were signed with: CAM, Aguas del Huila, CAS, CDMB, Department of Santander, CVC, Acuavalle, Corpocaldas, Empocaldas, Aguas de Manizales, ASOCARS and Andesco. Cormagdalena follows soon.

Work visit to Colombia in June and July

Last June and July, representatives of Dutch Water Authorities travelled to Colombia. Here they worked in 5 regions on participatory monitoring, wastewater treatment, crisis management and other themes. In workshops with regional partners, input was collected for the plan for Phase 2 of the Blue Deal, from 2023 to 2030.

This work visit was part of the Blue Deal programme InspirAgua. Within this programme plenty of knowledge and expertise in water management is exchanged between Dutch and Colombian water professionals. The work visit was concluded with a presentation by InspirAgua with explanations from directors of the organizations involved during Acodal, the network conference for (international) cooperation in the Colombian water sector.

To get an impression of one of the projects that was visited, watch this video on LinkedIn.

Work visit to the Netherlands

At the beginning of October, InspirAgua will receive Colombian colleagues in the Netherlands during a technical work visit on water governance in Colombia. Using the three-layer model, the development of a governance network in Colombia will be discussed, taking into account its purpose, structure, scope and actors.

During the visit, attention will be paid to drawing up recommendations for national policy in relation to integrated management of water resources ‘PNGIRH’ in Colombia and the new national development plan. Wageningen University & Research is organizing a reflection workshop on work experience in an international context and knowledge development in water management.

Want to stay informed about the activities within InspirAgua? Follow the program on LinkedIn.

Colombian delegation visits the Netherlands for Blue Deal

A delegation of Colombian directors from the water sector visited the Netherlands from May 8 until May 15. The visit was part of the Blue Deal program InspirAgua.

Group photo of Colombian directors

Within InspirAgua Dutch water authorities are working together with their Colombian partners. They do this through inspiration and sharing knowledge and experiences with each other, for example on the issue of participative monitoring. This cooperation ensures a further professionalization of water management in both the Netherlands and Colombia. The main goal: better water management and cleaner water for millions of people in Colombia by 2030.

Good cooperation

The visit of Colombian directors from the water sector to the Netherlands underlines the good cooperation within InspirAgua. The delegation was introduced to tasks in water management in the Netherlands. Including water storage, room for the river and the restoration of ecological values. In addition, the directors spoke to representatives of Dutch Water Authorities, various ministries and the Colombian embassy in the Netherlands.

Mutual learning and inspiration

Erik de Ridder, highest board member of the water authority De Dommel and administratively responsible for the InspirAgua programme, is pleased with the visit: “It is important and good to welcome a large delegation of Colombian directors involved in InspirAgua to the Netherlands. In this way they gain even better insight into the work we do within the program. We learn from them and they learn from us. That works best if you can view the assignments together on location. The visit is a confirmation of the constructive and fruitful cooperation between Colombia and the Netherlands and is a good basis for the follow-up.”

Creating joint added value

Luzette Kroon, board member of Dutch Water Authorities and administratively responsible for the Blue Deal, clearly sees the added value of the collaboration within InspirAgua: “We have to adapt spatial planning in the Netherlands to climate change. We can learn a lot from the way Colombia really does that together with its inhabitants.”

First work visit to Colombia since corona crisis

During work visits in September, October and November the Dutch water authorities visited their Blue Deal-partnership in Colombia for the first time in 1,5 year. This provided new energy and a boost to the program. "Digital working is so much different from working together and figuring out where the real problems lie and what it takes to solve them."

InspirAgua is the name of the Blue Deal-program in Colombia. In this partnership Dutch and Colombian water professionals share their knowledge and experience, to inspire each other. InspirAgua focuses on the every day work, to help people and organizations to work together with the right tools.

The necessity of physical meetings

The latest work visit before the corona crisis took place in March 2020. After that, the program continued digitally, but not with the same results as through physical meetings. Ellen Bollen-Weide, the Dutch program manager of InspirAgua: “Technically we could keep working during the corona period. However, we noticed that it was mainly sending information. And that’s a lot different from working together and figuring out where the real problems lie and what it takes to solve them.”

April this year it became clear that it was very difficult to achieve results by working from a distance. That’s why work visits were planned as soon as corona measures permitted them.


The Dutch water authorities visited their partners in Valle del Cauca, Caldas, Santander and Huila. They talked about the annual plan for 2022 and made the plans concrete. They also discussed the agenda for 2022 with all partners involved. Contacts were reinforced and all partners are still very positive about the cooperation.

During these last visits we’ve had some successes in the projects. In Valle del Cauca a new cooperation agreement was drawn up. In Santander big steps were made on topics such as participative monitoring and stakeholder analysis. In Huila the work plan for 2022 was finalized for support of the operational management and maintenance of smaller sewage treatment plants. And in Caldas we’ve talked about a cooperation agreement to support the construction of a sewage treatment plant for the southern part of Manizales (about 250.000 residents).

Let’s go (again)!

Program manager Bollen-Weide: “This past period we’ve set up technical committees, that were eager to start. That’s something we did achieve by continuing our work digitally: our contacts have been maintained and we were able to make a flying start, now that we can really start working together again.”