Delta-MAR: Governance and hydrogeological prerequisites for sustainable water supply through MAR systems in urbanizing deltas, applied to Bangladesh

The aim of the project is to facilitate the creation of underground fresh water buffers in saline deltas (MAR schemes). The research focuses on optimization of design, siting, operation and governance of small scale systems in rural communities and peri-urban areas.

The key audience at this research stage consists of local politicians, policy makers, donors and water supply professionals. Once technical guidelines and optimal governance arrangements have been established, the upscaling process can take off. At that stage the target audience comprises the communities, NGO’s and entrepreneurs, the main stakeholders of the MAR schemes.


Project leader: Dr F.S.J. (Frank) van Laerhoven (Utrecht University)

Consortium partners: B.M. van Breukelen (VU University Amsterdam), P. Schot (Utrecht University), F. van Laerhoven (Utrecht University), M. Bakker (Delft University of Technology), A. Tuinhof (Acacia Water), M. Kazi Achmed (University of Dhaka), S. Majumder (S. Majumder), P. Ravenscroft (UNICEF-Bangladesh)

Consortium partners (institutions): VU University Amsterdam, Utrecht University, Delft University of Technology, Acacia Wate, University of Dhaka, S. Majumder, UNICEF-Bangladesh


The DeltaMAR project had to engage in a serious reorganization before being able to start due to the fact that Critical Zone Hydrology group (VU Amsterdam) – which was envisioned to carry out project coordination and part of the PhD projects’ supervision – had to close down in 2014/15. Among other things, project coordination was moved from VU Amsterdam to Utrecht University, the original budget allocations were renegotiated, and a new consortium agreement was drafted and signed. This reorganization was successful thanks to the kind cooperation and patience of all parties involved, especially NWO. As a result, the project couldn’t start and become fully operational until 1 October, 2015, when the first PhD student started his project. The DeltaMAR project is moving ahead in full force since 1 January, 2016, which is when the other 3 PhD students started their respective research projects. Since then, all activities related to ‘knowledge, research and innovation’ are progressing according to schedule. As a logical consequence of the delay, we do not yet dispose of (preliminary) results, and we are unable to report on progress on activities that regard research uptake (i.e. stakeholder engagement, capacity development, communication, and monitoring & evaluation). All PhD students from Bangladesh have visited the Netherlands in order to receive training, develop their respective proposals and prepare their first data collection campaigns, in close collaboration with their respective supervisors. The consortium, including all PhD students, is now fully engaged in the first year of field work in Bangladesh.


Managed Aquifer Recharge (MAR) has an enormous potential for sustainable water provision in poor, delta communities. A unique opportunity arises in Bangladesh to evaluate MAR performance in saline aquifers. In 2012, a public-private consortium including UNICEF built twenty pilot MAR systems in the Khulna District. In 2014, the number of pilot systems is scheduled to grow to 100. The current systems show successes and failures, indicating knowledge gaps related to design, operation, water quality, governance, and business development.

The project?s objective is to address these knowledge gaps by determining financial, institutional, environmental, technical, and social prerequisites for the successful regional-scale, self-propelling, and sustainable implementation of MAR systems in urbanizing, saline deltas. The project aims to train 4 PhD students, generate new knowledge, develop capacity among a variety of stakeholders, and disseminate lessons-learned, both regionally and globally.

Our approach is to:

- Determine hydrogeological and hydrogeochemical prerequisites for successful MAR application through evaluation of the performance of the existing 20 and planned 80 MAR systems, and by building and evaluating 4 dedicated research sites equipped with innovative sensors. The research sites will be simulated with state-of-the-art groundwater flow and reactive transport models. Simple screening models will be developed, which will allow for a priori evaluation of expected MAR performance at a specific location based on few, easily measured quantities.

- Analyze MAR governance by identifying success and fail factors from existing experience with Pond Sand Filters to purify water, and experience with existing pilot MAR sites. Network analysis will be used to assess interactions between public and private partners. The present Technological Innovation System will be evaluated for its potential in the regional diffusion of MAR, and business cases for self-propelling regional MAR implementation will be developed.

- Use a Geographic Information System to map locations with varying degrees of (potential) MAR success for the Bangladesh saline delta and for similar deltas worldwide. Relevant steering parameters will be derived from the hydrogeological, hydrogeochemical, and governance studies. Detailed research transects will be constructed to obtain insight in local scale hydrogeological/hydrogeochemical heterogeneity and effects of human influences (settlements, ponds, extractions).

The project consortium includes four universities, a government agency, NGOs, and a consulting company.
The successful completion of the project will result in a governance plan and guidelines for application of MAR systems in saline deltas, worldwide, which will contribute to a sustainable and save drinking water supply for many poor delta communities.


Scientific article

Publication meant for a broad audience

  • F. van Laerhoven(2013): Inception Workshop report pp. 1 - 3
  • F. Naus(2017): Geohydrologisch onderzoek in een land vol water pp. 16 - 17 ISSN: issn 1876-231x.
  • F. van Laerhoven(2017): DeltaMAR website


Project number

W 07.69.107

Main applicant

Dr. F.S.J. van Laerhoven

Affiliated with

Universiteit Utrecht, Faculteit Geowetenschappen, Department of Sustainable Development

Team members

Prof. dr. K.M. Ahmed, Prof. dr. ir. M. Bakker, Dr. B.M. van Breukelen, K. Groen, M.B. Hasan MSc, M.I. Hasan MSc, Dr. F.S.J. van Laerhoven, Dr. S. Majumder, F. Naus MSc, M.R. Rafiq, Dr. P.P. Schot, Ir. A. Tuinhof


01/01/2015 to 31/12/2019