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. The hot and extremely dry period in 2018 shows that we need to prepare well for drier conditions. Consequently, we will continue to invest in preparing the Netherlands for drought.

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, which will provide insight into the probability of freshwater shortages. The Delta Decision also encompasses gradual investments to boost the resilience of the freshwater supply and encourage a more economical use of fresh water. The measures are presented in the Delta Plan on Freshwater Supply.

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.

Delta Plan on Freshwater Supply

The Delta Plan on Freshwater Supply contains all the measures and studies pertaining to the availability of fresh water in the Netherlands  that are implemented under the Delta Programme. This Delta Plan also comprises agreements regarding the financial contributions by the national government and the regions. The measures are fully or partially paid from the Delta Fund.

The implementation is largely on schedule. For example, in June 2018, a new Water Level Ordinance was adopted, which introduces flexible water level management in Lake IJsselmeer. Flexible water levels enable the retention of additional water in the summer, thus ensuring a sufficient supply of fresh water even in times of drought. Lake IJsselmeer and Lake Markermeer will have a more natural progression in summer water levels: a higher level in spring and a lower level towards the end of the summer.

Agreements on responsibilities, division of costs, financial arrangements, and timetables for all the measures have been 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, North-Netherlands, Elevated Sandy Soils East, Elevated Sandy Soils South, the area around the major rivers, West-Netherlands, and the Southwest Delta. Measures pertaining to the main water system have also been scheduled.

Delta Programme 2019

Read about the progress made with respect to the topic of Freshwater Supply in Delta Programme 2019. An overview of the studies and projects scheduled is presented in Table 15.

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 volumes, and – if applicable – 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 potential improvements;
  3. Optimisation of the efforts wherever necessary and setting down agreements.

In 2018, a dialogue with consumers was launched for approx. 15 per cent of the Netherlands and for the main water system. A full picture of nationwide water availability is expected by 2021, with a focus on the most urgent areas.

Regional elaboration is left to the provinces and authorities in charge of the water systems, in collaboration with consumers. The central government is responsible for the elaboration of water availability at the main water system level.

Knowledge and strategy

By 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 (in Dutch) 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.

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:

  • Expanding the existing emergency facilities for freshwater supply to the western part of the Netherlands, the Climate-proof Freshwater Supply (to be realised by 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 2019 and 2020? CHECK );
  • Ensuring that more freshwater can flow via the Noordervaart to the Elevated Sandy Soils.

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.

Fresh water, life blood for the development of the Netherlands

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