Freshwater Delta Programme

As a result of climate change, the weather is becoming wetter, warmer, and also drier. Prolonged periods of drought may compromise the supply of sufficient freshwater. The droughts in 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2022 have demonstrated the increasing urgency of drought issues in the Netherlands. Therefore, collaboration is essential to ensure our country’s resilience to freshwater shortages. Such collaboration is achieved under the Freshwater Delta Programme.

What is the Freshwater Delta Programme?

Freshwater is one of the three themes being addressed in the Delta Programme. General policy has been set down in the Freshwater Delta Decision. Its essence is: rendering the Netherlands resilient to freshwater shortages by 2050. Freshwater is of vital importance. Not only as a source of our drinking water, for agriculture, and for nature, but also for the stability of dykes, power supply, the shipping sector, and industry. In addition, we require freshwater to combat soil subsidence and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in peat areas. Furthermore, freshwater is important for urban living environments, for example, to sustain greenery and to provide room for leisure activities.

Which parties are implementing the Freshwater Delta Programme?

Under the Freshwater Delta Programme, the national government is collaborating with all the governments and freshwater consumers for the purpose of preventing freshwater shortages. To achieve this goal, the parties are implementing measures and conducting studies. These have been set down in the Freshwater Delta Plan (in Dutch). Many of these measures are aimed at gearing spatial planning more specifically to the availability of freshwater, in order to improve the Netherlands’ resilience to drought.

What does the Freshwater Delta Plan say?

The Freshwater Delta Plan sets out measures (in Dutch) and investments aimed at rendering us resilient to water shortages. The key goal is to gear spatial planning more specifically to the availability of freshwater. In addition, the plan comprises measures aimed at improving water retention, at more efficient water distribution, and at a more economical use of water. The Delta Plan outlines a preferential order for regional water management to secure the availability of water and to prevent waterlogging:

  1. Taking account of water availability in spatial planning and land use;
  2. More economical use of water;
  3. Improving water retention, collection, and storage in the soil and in buffers;
  4. Efficient water distribution;
  5. Accepting (residual) damage.

The Delta Plan is updated every six years. Phase 1 of the Freshwater Delta Plan (in Dutch) was largely completed by the end of 2021; some measures are still in progress. Phase 2 of the Freshwater Delta Plan (in Dutch) runs from 2022 through 2027. A Freshwater cost-benefit analysis (in Dutch) and several studies (in Dutch) conducted under the Freshwater Delta Programme have resulted in measures (in Dutch) to be implemented in phase 2. Some examples:

  • New ditches and canals will be created in order to improve the supply of freshwater from the rivers Rhine and Meuse;
  • 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 into groundwater;
  • Farmers can convert to drip irrigation in order to save water;
  • 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, e.g., 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.

Key mainstays of the Freshwater Delta Programme

Under the Freshwater Delta Programme, several strategies are being pursued to improve the Netherlands’ resilience to drought, salinisation, and freshwater shortages. Several important mainstays are explained 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 freshwater consumers. This process will generate insight into the current and future availability of freshwater 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. More details are provided on the water availability page (in Dutch).

Water and the soil

Governments must focus far more attention on water and the soil (in Dutch) as leading factors in spatial developments, spatial planning, and spatial management. This requires a shift in our thought and action; thus, it is quite a challenging task. Several structuring choices need to steer this task. Many of these choices constitute preconditions that provinces can use to draw up an area-specific strategy, in concert with stakeholders. Examples are: increasing freshwater supplies; taking a critical look at construction locations; raising the groundwater level; and more economical use of water.

More efficient use of water

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 (in Dutch) 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 (in Dutch) 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

An important component of the Freshwater Delta Plan is the continuous enhancement of the knowledge basis:

  • Knowledge on the freshwater supply is kept up to date with the Freshwater Delta Programme Knowledge Agenda (in Dutch). The Knowledge Agenda is updated annually and provides insight into the progress and outcomes of the programmes, studies, and pilot projects being carried out under the Freshwater Delta Programme. The outcomes of studies and pilot projects are disseminated at knowledge events and through national and regional presentations.
  • Under the Freshwater Delta Programme, a wide range of analyses is conducted to determine the strategy and measures for the years ahead. The Freshwater Delta Programme Analysis Roadmap (in Dutch) provides an overview of these analyses. The roadmap has been developed and is managed by the Freshwater Delta Programme policy support and advisory staff of Rijkswaterstaat. The roadmap helps Rijkswaterstaat and the freshwater regions to collectively prepare for the next phase of the Freshwater Delta Programme.