Dr Pascale Rouault new Managing Director of KWB

2 April marks the beginning of Dr Pascale Rouault’s tenure as the new Managing Director of KWB Kompetenzzentrum Wasser Berlin gGmbH. Pascale is a familiar face at KWB, having worked here between 2007 and 2022, most recently as a department head and authorised signatory. The staff at KWB warmly welcome Pascale and look forward to working with her. We interviewed Pascale to allow her to introduce herself and her goals in her new position.

Dear Pascale, what brought you to water management and what fascinates you about it?

I come from a mountainous region in the French Alps, where water plays a major role in the common good, such as for water and energy production, or for agricultural irrigation. At the same time, it’s also part of the landscape and important for recreation. However, too much water or lack thereof can be a great danger. I’ve always found the diversity and complexity of water fascinating. I realised from the very beginning that water is part of a larger system, that it must be considered in connection with other areas. This holistic aspect still defines my perspective and work today. I enjoy working on integrated topics, especially with people who think or act differently than I do as an engineer working on water management. 

I initially studied math, perhaps just to show that women can do it too. I then quickly realised that applying mathematics to water issues was the most exciting thing for me. From then on, there was no stopping me: I fully focussed on water management. I was lucky enough to engage in both research and practical applications right from the beginning: in my first job in Germany, I was able to set up many models and carry out experiments in the hydraulic engineering laboratory of TU Berlin. Since 2006, my primary focus has been around advancing drainage systems and implementing measures for water pollution control in urban environments. Back then, the terms sponge city or water-sensitive urban development weren’t used. Today, we know how important the measures behind these buzzwords are for climate adaptation and establishment of resilient infrastructure.

There is nothing better than doing research in my immediate surroundings, helping to shape and develop the city. I’m fascinated by many unanswered questions and am excited about the prospect of working on future topics in an integrated manner, and meeting lots of interesting people in the process.

You worked at KWB from 2007 to 2022, most recently as a Department Head. After two years at HAMBURG WASSER as Head of Water Management and Neighbourhood Development, you are now returning to KWB as Managing Director. What motivated you to return to KWB and what makes KWB so special?

The two years at HAMBURG WASSER were unfortunately far too short. I worked with a wonderful team and many other stakeholders on water-sensitive urban development. I had just enough time to sow the seeds, i.e. to start many collaborations and projects, and see the first tender seedlings grow. But it takes months, if not years, for projects to bear fruit. I will continue to follow the developments in Hamburg with great interest and look back fondly on these two very enjoyable years.

What motivated me to return to KWB was the unique opportunity to influence water management in Berlin, in Germany, and in Europe, to further develop the KWB team, and to work on even broader water management issues. We know that the challenges in water management are enormous, compounded by increasing demands for sustainability amidst limited financial resources. I want to contribute to overcoming them. KWB is the ideal place to do this, because it combines many special advantages. First and foremost, it’s the employees who are so passionate about researching the urban water cycle. It’s rare that so many people with different skills can come together and collectively gain experience over years to solve urgent problems in a multidisciplinary way. At universities, scientists are seldom given permanent contracts and the loss of expertise is a constant issue: KWB does not have this restriction. The fact that it is decidedly applied research also sets KWB apart: close collaboration with industry means research results can be directly applied in a targeted manner. There were and are many wonderful projects developed with highly committed partners, including, of course, our shareholders, Berliner Wasserbetriebe and Technologiestiftung Berlin. It’s important to maintain and expand this excellent cooperation. And then there is KWB's status as a non-profit limited company and our commitment to disseminating research findings widely for the collective benefit - a notable and rewarding task.

KWB has come a long way in finding its distinctive profile, which is quite normal for a research organisation. KWB has established itself locally, nationally, and internationally as a renowned independent research institute. I am proud to lead KWB and am delighted by the trust placed in me.

What are the biggest challenges in the water sector in Berlin, in Germany, and throughout Europe? What role does KWB play in overcoming them?

I would like to take the liberty of listing them (although I certainly won't be able to name them all). Most are relevant for Berlin, for Germany, and for the rest of Europe:

  • ageing infrastructure;

  • ageing population;

  • shortage of skilled labour;

  • limited resources;

  • changes in the contextual landscape (climate change, population growth, urbanisation, legislation, etc.) with a variety of consequences such as water scarcity, extreme weather events (e.g. heavy rainfall), increased energy requirements, or the need for new technologies and/or processes; and

  • dealing with the opportunities as well as the risks of new technologies (e.g. AI).

KWB provides answers to many water-related questions, facilitating the development and evaluation of expertise, technologies, tools, models and strategies. This is an important first step to overcoming the challenges in the water sector. We provide advice based on our research results – ultimately, though, it is up to others to decide. This refers to those responsible for water management, i.e. politicians, administrations, and water and wastewater utilities, who can make better, more informed decisions thanks to our scientific work.

What are your goals as KWB’s Managing Director? Where do you want to take KWB?

As the Managing Director of KWB, I want employees to feel comfortable at their workplace, to be able to realise their full potential, and to find ideal conditions for successful work. I also want KWB to work on pertinent issues and assume a leading role in overcoming the challenges within the water sector. My aim is for KWB to further enhance its esteemed scientific reputation, and to ensure existing collaborations thrive while also fostering new partnerships.

Ultimately, KWB can only continue to deliver such good results if the finances are sound. It is no secret that maintaining a balanced budget is a particular challenge in the research domain. I would like to lead KWB towards financial stability.

Do you also have a special relationship with water outside of your profession?

I like water in many forms. I love sailing and swimming. Berlin and its surroundings are perfect for this!

I also have a little water anecdote: as a young mother, I had the tap water at my daughter's kindergarten in Berlin analysed, since sweet tea was the only drink offered due to concerns about heavy metals in tap water. After the analysis results confirmed the excellent quality of the water, I was informed, "Good news - The water is safe for boiling and making our tea." As a result, I continued to carry water bottles to the kindergarten for 3 more years. This example highlights the importance of raising awareness about water in our daily lives. And despite the confirmation of high quality of our tap water, it is crucial to recognise that water remains a fragile and vulnerable resource that we must protect.  

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