Freshwater supply

A sufficient supply of freshwater is crucial to the stability of dykes and urban development, and to the delivery of drinking water and electricity. Water-dependent sectors, such as agriculture, shipping, and a range of industries depend on freshwater for their production. These sectors account for a value of more than 193 billion euros (direct production) and a share of approx. 16% of the national economy. Watery nature, the urban living environment and public health also depend on sufficient freshwater.

However, the freshwater supply is not always sufficient to meet the demand. The delta scenarios show that in the future, climate change, salinisation and socio-economic developments could give rise to more frequent water shortages. The Delta Decision on Freshwater Supply constitutes the basis for a joint approach to the freshwater tasking. A key element is mapping out the availability of water (previously referred as the “supply levels”), which provides insight into the probability of freshwater shortages. Gradual investments will ensure a more robust supply and a more economical use of freshwater. The Delta Decision on Freshwater Supply provides the framework for a new approach to preventing water shortages.

Generic topic freshwater

Shared responsibility

Preventing water shortages calls for a concerted effort by all authorities and freshwater consumers. Rijkswaterstaat and the district water boards can improve freshwater supply routes and build up reserves. Large consumers of water, such as companies that use a lot of water, the agriculture and horticulture sectors, and nature managers, can focus on saving water. Only if all these parties make an effort can the Netherlands continue to have an affordable and adequate freshwater supply in the long term.

All the freshwater supply measures required to prevent water shortages have been bundled into the Delta Plan on Freshwater Supply. This also comprises agreements regarding the financial contributions by the central government and the regions. The Delta Plan on Freshwater Supply contains a concrete schedule of measures for the period 2015-2021, with a look ahead to 2022-2028. With respect to the scheduling of freshwater supply measures for 2016 and beyond, the agreements on responsibilities, division of costs, financial arrangements, and planning are set down in regional administrative agreements. Each freshwater supply region follows its own adaptation track, i.e., implements the required measures step by step. The freshwater supply regions are: IJsselmeer Region, Elevated Sandy Soils East, Elevated Sandy Soils South, the areas around the major rivers, Western Netherlands and the Southwest Delta. Measures pertaining to the main water system will also be scheduled.

Gemaal de Aanvoerder

Water availability

The water availability instrument provides insight into the probability of water shortages in an area, both in normal situations and in times of drought. The regional agreements set out the responsibilities and tasks of the government, and the responsibilities and residual risks of the consumers, in terms of surface water and groundwater, and – if applicable – water quantity and water quality. This insight into the probability of water shortages enables the consumers to prepare, for example by implementing innovations in their companies. The authorities and consumers jointly gain insight into water availability in a three-step process:

  1. providing insight into the probability of water shortages, now and in the future;
  2. a dialogue between the authorities and consumers about this information; and
  3. optimising the efforts wherever necessary and setting down agreements. The aim is for all the regions to have initial insight into water availability by 2018 and to have the picture complete by 2021.

Insight into water availability will be gained in the years ahead. The provinces are charged with elaboration at the regional level, in collaboration with the water managers and the consumers. The central government is responsible for the elaboration of water availability at the main water system level. The first pilots were rolled out in 2015 and 2016.

Knowledge and strategy

In 2021, a well-founded decision needs to be taken regarding the next phase of the Delta Plan on Freshwater Supply. This calls for thorough knowledge. A joint Freshwater Supply knowledge agenda has been drawn up for the purpose of exploring measures and elaborating system-related issues. The results of studies, the updated climate scenarios, and insights gained during the implementation of measures will be translated into the freshwater supply strategy and the adaptation tracks. In 2015 and 2016, the Delta Programme worked out the details of the Freshwater Supply Knowledge Agenda. The Knowledge Agenda gives an initial impetus to topics and knowledge issues that will be relevant to the implementation of the Delta Decision on Freshwater Supply in the years ahead.

Gradual improvement

Over the past few centuries, the Netherlands has built up a firm foundation for its freshwater supply. Our country has large freshwater stocks in Haringvliet/Hollandsch Diep/Biesbosch and in the IJsselmeer Region. By means of weirs in the Nederrijn, we can direct how water from the Rhine is distributed across the Waal, Nederrijn, Lek and IJssel, while weirs on the Meuse ensure that there is sufficient water in the river. This foundation remains the basis of our freshwater supply. In the short term, water availability will be kept up to par through limited investments in the water systems and among the water consumers. To this end, the authorities are exploring various measures, including:

  • a greater freshwater buffer in the IJsselmeer Region for the area above the Amsterdam-Amersfoort-Zwolle line (water level ordinance expected in 2017);
  • expanding the existing emergency facilities for freshwater supply to the western part of the Netherlands, the small-scale water supply (to be realised no later than 2021);
  • gradually enhancing the resilience of the stocks of water in the Brielse Meer lake for the Rhine Estuary-Drechtsteden area and the Southwest Delta (realisation scheduled for 2017 and 2018);
  • ensuring that more freshwater can flow via the Noordervaart to the Elevated Sandy Soils (implementation scheduled for 2017).

The extent of the long-term investments required in terms of freshwater supply depends on the scope and pace of climate change. For that reason, we have opted for a gradual approach. The measures that are being launched now will make the system more resilient.

International collaboration

The international approach to the freshwater supply issue is primarily agendised and elaborated in the International River Committees for the Rhine, Meuse and Scheldt.

Delta Programme 2017

To view the progress made with respect to the freshwater supply, click here: Freshwater Supply in Delta Programme 2017. Appendix 2, Delta Plan on Freshwater, contains a schedule of studies and projects.