Dredging in a changing world

Polite Laboyrie, CEDA President. Credit: CEDA

Our industry will face some of its toughest challenges over the next decade. As a responsible industry, we must look to sustainable practices to realise the best outcomes, writes CEDA president Polite Laboyrie

Dredging is changing. This is the theme of the forthcoming World Dredging Congress (WODCON) taking place in Copenhagen in 2022, organised by Central Dredging Association (CEDA). So much is implied by these simple three words.

By its very nature, dredging has a big influence on natural and socio-economic environments. The way we dredge is also changing. In fact, in the 42 years of CEDA’s and DPC’s co-existence, we have seen many changes take place within the industry – some were introduced incrementally, others were fundamental changes that the industry was forced to adjust to.

One crucial change introduced incrementally at the beginning of the twenty-first century and which will drive dredging innovations for many years to come is the global shift towards sustainability.

CEDA and the International Association of Dredging Companies (IADC) collaborated on a guidebook – Dredging for Sustainable Infrastructure – in which we proposed the following operational definition of sustainability for water infrastructure projects involving dredging, such as port development, river deepening, flood defence measures, and reclamations:

“Sustainability is achieved in the development of infrastructure by efficiently investing the resources needed to support the desired social, environmental, and economic services generated by infrastructure for the benefit of current and future generations.”

In practical terms, this means that the sustainability of an infrastructure project can be enhanced by increasing the overall value of the project through the range of services it provides, reducing costs associated with the project (monetary and non-monetary), and balancing the distribution of the value and costs across the three pillars of sustainability (society, environment, and economy) over time.

Holistic vision

Using dredged material collected from a port maintenance project for wetlands restoration or beach nourishment close to the project site, instead of disposing it offshore, is a good example of sustainable operations.

Investing more time and energy in upfront visioning and stakeholder engagement will not diminish the importance of generating economic benefits from water infrastructure, rather it is likely to reveal opportunities for creating additional benefits for nature and society.

This century presents the professional dredging community with a variety of challenges and opportunities, some of which will be the most difficult it has had to overcome to date. Climate change continues, energy transition is a fact, the growing world population calls for more sustainable cities, and more food will be needed. It follows, therefore, that the demand for sustainable infrastructure will also increase.

From its birth, CEDA has been at the forefront of promoting and exchanging dredging-related science and technology ideas. Our founding Articles of Association in 1978 already listed the environment among the seven subjects of interest, although, at the time there was some resistance to it.

In 1991, the CEDA Environmental Steering Committee had its first meeting and since then there has been no turning back. All of our information papers, best practice guidelines, and our guidebook bring together the latest, relevant knowledge from expert members of our community. They offer a road map to practitioners to take on the challenges and proactively look for opportunities that create added value for water infrastructure projects beyond their primary, functional objectives.

When CEDA puts its ‘Dredging is changing’ debate on the table at WODCON in 2022, it will bring us one step closer to realising truly sustainable operations, delivering further value to our community, our industry, society, and beyond. For the past 42 years, DPC has been our supportive companion in our endeavours and I would like to express our thanks for that.