The Rhine and Meuse play an important role in water discharge and water availability, as well as for the economy, nature and leisure. River dikes protect large parts of the Netherlands from flooding. The national Delta Programme includes several initiatives to preserve and, where necessary, enhance the functions of the major rivers. 

The river system is under pressure from climate change and the use of the rivers is expected to intensify further. The measures in the national Delta Programme respond to these developments. 


Sea level rise, higher river discharges, more extreme rainfall, and longer periods of drought and heat are leading to major changes. In the future, rivers will have to be able to discharge more water. Low discharges will also be seen more frequently. The riverbed is not in balance everywhere: in several places, it is affected by scour. The erosion of the riverbed means that water levels will be even lower when discharge levels fall. That interferes with shipping, and has adverse effects on freshwater supplies and nature. It also has an impact on the Dutch economy. 

A new approach

In recent years, it became apparent that the approach of the national Delta Programme was no longer adequate to meet the challenges. The emphasis was on flood risk management and therefore on strengthening and raising dikes, and making room for the rivers. The low river discharges in 2018, 2019 and 2020 demonstrated that there should also be a focus on freshwater supplies, drought, navigability, riverbed erosion and nature objectives. In response, the national government teamed up with the regions and other partners. They launched a new national programme: Integrated River Management. 

Integrated River Management Programme

In the Integrated River Management Programme (IRM), the national government and regions focus on a dynamic, navigable, safe and attractive river area that can be sustainably managed and that is ready for the future. The core of the programme is integration: we will achieve our goals only if we consider the challenges in conjunction. 

The IRM programme is developing a vision for the Dutch river area. We are mapping out the interventions needed between now and 2050 for flood risk management, navigability, freshwater availability, water quality, nature and an attractive living environment (economically and otherwise). We are opting for measures that, taken together, constitute a logical and coordinated programme that is appropriate for the characteristics of the area. 

The programme has been established step by step between 2021 and 2023. During that time, the parties have acquired experience with the integrated working method in IRM pilot projects. IRM will be defined in a Programme under the Environment Act (POW-IRM) that will set out the vision for the area, make policy choices about future discharge capacity and riverbed location, and establish collaborative agreements. The POW-IRM will also identify the areas for the initial area-specific approaches and further studies.

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