Delta Plan on Freshwater Supply

Climate change will be facing us with increasingly frequent prolonged periods of drought, more low river discharges, more salinisation, and more waterlogging following severe downpours. These developments will impact the availability of fresh water, as was found, e.g., during the prolonged droughts in 2018, 2019, and the spring of 2020. Freshwater shortages pose a threat to Dutch nature, our industry, and farming. The Delta Plan on Freshwater Supply is aimed at preventing freshwater shortages.

Why is fresh water important?

A sufficient supply of fresh water is essential for the Netherlands. Not only in the purview of providing drinking water, for the agriculture sector, and for nature: fresh water is also important for the stability of our dykes, our power supply, the shipping sector, and industry. In addition, we need fresh water to keep the soil from subsiding in areas prone to subsidence. Furthermore, fresh water is important for urban living environments, e.g., to sustain sufficient greenery. And as we depend on fresh water for our drinking water, it also plays an important part in terms of public health.

Who is implementing the Delta Plan on Freshwater Supply?

Under the Freshwater Supply programme of the overall Delta Programme, the national government is collaborating with all the regional and local governments and with freshwater consumers to achieve the goal of preventing freshwater shortages. To this end, the parties are implementing a range of measures and conducting a range of studies. These have been set down in the Delta Plan on Freshwater Supply. Many of these measures are aimed at gearing spatial planning to the availability of fresh water, in order to increase the Netherlands’ resilience against drought. This is part of the reason why the Freshwater Supply Delta Programme is increasingly collaborating with the Spatial Adaptation Delta Programme.

How have the droughts of 2018 and 2019 affected policy?

In December 2019, the Drought Policy Platform published its final report, aimed at ensuring that the Netherlands is better prepared for subsequent periods of drought. One of the main conclusions is that land use and spatial planning need to take more account of the availability of fresh water. This conclusion is one of the reasons why the Freshwater Supply programme is increasingly collaborating with the Spatial Adaptation programme. Gearing land use more efficiently to freshwater availability requires a major change. The final report contains 46 recommendations for achieving such a change. The governments and freshwater consumers are now implementing these recommendations and other measures.

What does the Delta Plan on Freshwater Supply say?

The Delta Plan on Freshwater Supply contains measures and investments aimed at rendering our country resilient against water shortages. A pivotal element is that we need to make more of an effort to gear spatial planning to freshwater availability. In addition, the Plan sets out measures aimed at improving water retention, measures aimed at more efficient water distribution, and measures aimed at economising water consumption. Furthermore, the Delta Plan sets out an order of preference for regional water management, aimed at securing the water supply and preventing waterlogging:

  1. In spatial planning and land use, we need to take more account of water availability and waterlogging;
  2. All water consumers must economise their use of water;
  3. Water management bodies must optimise their water retention, water collection, and water storage;
  4. Water management bodies must distribute water more efficiently;
  5. Preventing damage altogether is impossible when dealing with natural phenomena. In some cases, we will need to accept and prepare for (residual) damage.

The Delta Plan is updated every six years. Phase 1 of the Delta Plan on Freshwater Supply was largely completed by the end of 2021; for some measures, implementation is scheduled to run until the end of 2023. Phase 2 of the Delta Plan on Freshwater Supply will run from 2022 up to and including 2027. A Freshwater Supply Cost-Benefit Analysis (pdf, 9.4 MB) and several studies conducted under the Freshwater Supply Delta Programme have generated measures to be implemented in Phase 2. Some examples:

  • New ditches and canals will be created, aimed at improving freshwater supplies from the rivers Rhine and Meuse;
  • The agriculture sector must convert to drip irrigation in order to save water;
  • By allowing brooks to meander and by constructing weirs, water can be retained for longer periods of time. This will extend its availability and allow it to infiltrate to groundwater;
  • At the sluices and locks in the IJsselmeer Closure Dam, measures will be taken to combat salinisation of Lake IJsselmeer;
  • Purified sewage water (effluent) will be reused for farming, industry, and the data centres in the Eemshaven area.

The measures implemented by the national government and the regional parties in Phase 1 involved a total cost of more than 400 million euros. For Phase 2, they have doubled their ambitions: collectively, they will be investing more than 800 million euros.

What solution strategies will contribute to the realisation of the Delta Plan on Freshwater Supply?

Under the Delta Plan on Freshwater Supply, several solution strategies are being pursued to improve the Netherlands’ resilience against drought and salinisation, and to prevent freshwater shortages. More details on each strategy are provided below.

Continued pursuit of water availability

In the pursuit of long-term resilience against drought, the national government is mapping out water availability in concert with all the regional governments and all the water consumers. This process will generate insight into the current and future availability of fresh water (of sufficient quality) under both normal and dry conditions. This insight will serve as the basis for exploring measures to improve freshwater availability and for setting down agreements.

Water and soil

Governments must focus on water and the soil as their point of departure in spatial developments, spatial planning, and spatial management. This is the only way to maintain sufficient room and flexibility in the water system to cope with extreme climate effects and to prevent damage to various sectors.

More efficient water consumption

We need to economise our use of water, retain more water for longer periods of time, and distribute water more efficiently. This is essential at all levels: in the regional water systems, in the main water system, and among individual water consumers:

  • The existing infrastructure of regional water systems can be used more efficiently and more flexibly, as has also been shown by experience during the drought of 2018. Under the Smart Water Management programme, district water boards and Rijkswaterstaat are collectively exploring efficient solutions;
  • For the main water system, the national government is pursuing the Climate-proof Main Water System strategy;
  • Residents can do their part by retaining water in the soil. They can replace garden pavement with plants and, for example, use a rain barrel to collect water.

Knowledge and research

Knowledge on the freshwater supply is kept up to date with the Delta Plan on Freshwater Supply Knowledge Agenda. The Knowledge Agenda is updated annually and provides insight into the progress and outcomes of the programmes, studies, and pilot projects carried out under the Delta Plan on Freshwater Supply. The outcomes of studies and pilot projects are disseminated at knowledge events and through national and regional presentations.