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 substantial share of our national economy. Watery nature, the urban environment, and public health also depend on sufficient fresh water. The hot and extremely dry period in 2018 has shown 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, as was apparent in 2018. The spring, the summer, and the autumn of 2018 were exceptionally dry. This prolonged period of drought has once more underscored the urgency of the Delta Plan on Freshwater Supply. At several locations, the drought has caused problems. Farmlands and nature reserves suffered damage due to salinisation and a shortage of fresh water. Urban and rural areas were affected by water quality issues, whilst low groundwater levels caused additional soil subsidence and foundation damage. A substandard surface water quality jeopardised the intake of IJsselmeer water for drinking water purposes near the town of Andijk in the province of Noord-Holland. Low navigable depths and restrictions near locks hampered the shipping sector, leading to bottlenecks in the supply of raw materials.

The year 2019 also saw regional drought, which was particularly manifest at the Elevated Sandy Soils in the eastern and southern parts of the country, and in parts of the province of Zeeland. The Delta Programme seeks to prevent disasters and water shortages. To this end, the Delta Plan on Freshwater Supply sets out preventative measures and looks at long-term developments. The Delta Scenarios and the updated bottleneck analysis  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 . 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 water conservation. 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. Part of the cost is borne by regional parties.

The implementation is largely on schedule. A milestone achieved in 2018 was the adoption of the new IJsselmeer Water Level Ordinance, enabling Rijkswaterstaat and the water authorities in the area around Lake IJsselmeer to respond more efficiently to extremely dry periods and freshwater requirements. Several other measures were also completed in 2018, for example, the adaptation of the water inlet in the Prinses Irene locks, climate adaptation pilots such as Spaarwater 2 to retain water, and several brook restoration projects.

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 2020

Read about the progress made with respect to the topic of Freshwater Supply in Delta Programme 2020.

Water Availability Instrument

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.

Interim evaluation

The interim evaluation of the Water Availability process in 2018 generated four points for attention: the incorporation of the Water Availability instrument into environmental policy, linkage with the Delta Plan on Spatial Adaptation, the actual scheduling of measures for urgent areas, and the manner in which the optimisation and efficiency of current water management are discussed and set down. All these points for attention have been addressed.

In the spring of 2018, the Freshwater Administrative Platform agreed to give priority to the elaboration of water availability issues in urgent areas, and wherever possible, to link up with the stress tests being conducted under the Delta Plan on Spatial Adaptation. Meanwhile, the Freshwater Administrative Platform has set down the map with urgent areas identified by the freshwater supply regions. The elaboration of the water availability issues in these areas must be completed by no later than 2021. In the Elevated Sandy Soils area, water availability is largely embedded into integrated regional processes, whilst the planning is also affected by other taskings; consequently, 2021 is not always a feasible deadline.

Drought Policy Platform

At the end of 2018, the Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management set up a temporary Drought Policy Platform. Its aim is to translate the lessons learned from the 2018 summer drought into policy proposals, in order to be better prepared for the drought seasons of 2019 and beyond. The participants to the Drought Policy Platform are representatives of the governments (central government, Association of Provincial Authorities, Association of Dutch Regional Water Authorities, Association of Netherlands Municipalities), and drinking water companies (Vewin). The Freshwater Administrative Platform and the Delta Programme Commissioner’s staff are also represented in order to safeguard a proper liaison with the Delta Plan on Freshwater Supply. The water consumers are involved through the Physical Environment Consultative Body.

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 and a sound process. In the purview of developing more 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. The Freshwater Administrative Platform has set down a roadmap for the process leading up to the second phase of the Delta Plan on Freshwater Supply.

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;
  • Ensuring that more freshwater can flow to the Elevated Sandy Soils via the Noordervaart.

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.

Potential amendment of the Delta Decision

In 2018, the Freshwater Administrative Platform decided that the elaboration of the Water Availability process in urgent areas must be completed by no later than 2021. The implementation of the Delta Decision on Freshwater Supply is on course. In May 2019, the Freshwater Administrative Platform agreed on the formulation of freshwater supply targets for 2050 – similar to those formulated for flood risk management and spatial adaptation – wherever possible utilising the national goals as set down in DP2015. Following the first six-year review, the goals for 2050 will be incorporated into the Delta Decision on Freshwater Supply as set out in DP 2021.