How can we mitigate the impact of drought?

Short-term measures may mitigate the impact of a drought crisis. What is of paramount importance, however, is adapting the Netherlands to a future featuring a higher probability of prolonged drought. To this end, measures are being implemented at the national, regional, and local levels. These measures are explained in the paragraphs below.

What measures can we take during a drought crisis?

An imminent water shortage will prompt a meeting of the National Water Distribution Coordination Commission (LCW). This commission of water management bodies keeps a close watch on the drought and takes action when so required. The commission will provide daily information on the current drought situation via the Drought Monitor. In addition, the commission sets down recommendations regarding the distribution of the available water from the major rivers across the various sectors, such as agriculture, horticulture, the drinking water sector, shipping, and nature management. The commission reviews the volume of water for each sector but also considers the proper water quality for each destination. In the event of excessive drought and water shortages, the commission may recommend to enforce the prioritisation scheme. The prioritisation scheme indicates the functional order of priority in the distribution of the available water.

Who is responsible for what?

Preventing water shortages calls for concerted efforts from all the government tiers and freshwater consumers. Government bodies and consumers have different responsibilities in this respect:

  • The national government (including Rijkswaterstaat) and the district water boards are tasked with (ground)water management. They can build water supplies and improve freshwater supply routes, e.g., by redirecting water to an area that needs it more.
  • The provincial authorities are tasked with supervising the management of water systems by the district water boards. Furthermore, responsibility for part of groundwater management is vested with the provinces.
  • Municipalities are responsible for rainwater drainage and the spatial planning of villages and cities. They can take measures to disconnect downspouts from the sewer system, and to introduce more greenery to replace pavement. This facilitates water absorption in the soil and ensures that rainwater is retained where it falls.
  • Businesses, farmers, horticulturists, and nature managers can focus on water savings and adapted land use.

How is the Netherlands preparing for long-term drought?

The Delta Plan for Freshwater Supply is intended to ensure that by 2050, the Netherlands will be resilient against water shortages. In pursuit of this goal, the water availability process is being elaborated under the Delta Plan for Freshwater Supply. Thus, government authorities and freshwater consumers aim to gain insight into freshwater availability in the Netherlands. How much fresh water will be available under normal and dry conditions, now and in the future? Based on this insight, the parties intend to collectively improve water availability. Together with the water management bodies, the central government has drawn up an order of preference for water management. Based on this order of preference, measures will be implemented all over the Netherlands. In addition to ensuring a sufficient supply of water, these measures will also prevent waterlogging. More information on the order of preference is provided below, and on the page relating to the Delta Plan for Freshwater Supply.

What measures can we take to mitigate the impact of drought?

The water system is primarily aimed at discharging rainwater. For example, in the past, meandering brooks have been straightened, while in villages and cities, a large surface area has been paved. Over an entire year, precipitation volumes will suffice to prevent drought. However, insufficient water is available to be used in periods of drought, because rainwater volumes are not proportionate to seasonal requirements and because rainwater is insufficiently retained. The main measure set out in the order of preference is taking more account of water availability and waterlogging in spatial planning. Another key measure is to retain rather than drain water. This will keep up ground water levels. Other important steps are water conservation, temporary water storage, water reuse, and more efficient water distribution. And finally, not all damage can be prevented. We must accept and prepare for this.

What can residents do?

Residents can also take steps to prevent and reduce drought. As a general rule, rather than draining rainwater, aim to retain rainwater on your own premises. This can be done, for example, by replacing tiles in the garden with greenery and by disconnecting downspouts from the sewer. Both measures allow rainwater to seep into the soil and supplement groundwater. What also helps is to install a rain barrel to collect rainwater that you can subsequently use for watering your garden.  Furthermore, gardens can be adapted to improve their drought resilience by planting drought-tolerant species. Finally, residents can use water more consciously and, for instance, accept the fact that the gras may turn yellow during a dry summer.