Amsterdam-Rhine Canal/North Sea Canal

The Amsterdam-Rhine Canal/North Sea Canal (ARK-NZK) water system fulfils an important role for freshwater supplies and limiting problems with excess water in the Western Netherlands. In this busy area with more than 4 million inhabitants, the effects of climate change are already unmistakable: there are water shortages in dry summers, but also periods when there is too much water.

The Amsterdam-Rhine Canal/North Sea Canal area is home to two metropolitan regions: Amsterdam and Utrecht. The area is enormous valuable (economically and otherwise), partly because of the important infrastructure (Schiphol Airport, the ports and numerous data centers) and intensive land use. Even a slight rise in the water level can lead to problems. Damage may also occur – aridification and salinisation, for example – when there are water shortages, with adverse effects on agriculture, drinking water supplies, nature, and land subsidence (and the associated consequences for buildings and infrastructure). Developments in agriculture, urban planning and nature also have a major impact on the water system. Much of the area is below sea level. Sea level rise is placing further pressure on the water system and its functions; timely changes are therefore required. 


Several studies have shown that the ARK/NZK water system is reaching its limits. Inland and maritime shipping depend on, and affect, the robustness of the water system. There is already a major water challenge that includes problems with excess water, salinisation and water shortages. That challenge will become even more daunting as a result of climate change, sea level rise, and spatial and socio-economic developments. The crucial question is how the inhabitants of this area can keep their feet dry and maintain access to adequate supplies of fresh water, both now and in a century from now. This is a huge challenge that cannot be resolved simply by building new pumping stations. It is also important to make the functions in the area less dependent on the water system, and to construct new areas for urbanisation in suitable locations that will be planned so that they are climate-adaptive. The boundary conditions associated with water management are increasingly playing a leading role in spatial planning for these areas.It is important to look well into the future and anticipate developments in order to live and work safely in this area, now and in the future.

Towards a future-resilient water system

The Future-Resilient Water System in the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal/North Sea Canal Area (TB) is a regional programme focusing on the climate-resilient and water-robust design of the Western Netherlands. It covers multiple areas and involves collaboration between water management and provincial authorities. 

The goal of this programme is to make the entire water system and spatial planning robust, in conjunction with essential functions and spatial developments. The mitigation of problems with excess water, salinisation, water shortages and spatial adaptation goes hand in hand with the agendas relating to spatial planning, water quality, ecology and energy. The government authorities connect the agendas – from the local to the national level – and seek solutions for them. They do this in close collaboration with other stakeholders.

The programme also developed a roadmap. This tool makes decisions for a future-resilient water system visible. It also includes an overview of strategic decision points for spatial planning. It provides administrators and other decision-makers with the right information needed to make decisions.

Developments in the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal/North Sea Canal Area

  • The TB programme will also be researching freshwater shortages and salinisation in the region in collaboration with the Freshwater Delta Programme. Which short- and long-term measures are necessary? 
  • In order to allow water to serve as a leading factor for spatial planning, the TB programme is working on clear boundary conditions that spatial developments must meet. In addition to retaining and/or storing water, all spatial developments must capture the water discharge and the increase in precipitation in their own area (with climate-adaptive building). To prevent overlap, there will be coordination with the national ‘Water and soil as leading factors’ programme.
  • In collaboration with track IV of the Sea Level Rise Knowledge Programme, action perspectives for the distant future were explored in regional sessions. This was done using a design-oriented approach. What will be the possible solutions for the long-term? Which opportunities and dilemmas are there in the area in terms of transitions and agendas?