Five questions to former Delta Commissioner Wim Kuijken about the Delta Programme and the role of the Delta Commissioner.

Wim Kuijken

Why has the Cabinet appointed a government commissioner for the Delta programme?

Wim Kuijken: “The position of Delta Commissioner will be anchored in the Delta Act. I have been appointed for a term of seven years, which exceeds a cabinet period. This was a well-considered decision because it makes the Delta Programme less dependent on the short-term cycle of political office. It is my responsibility to draw up, update and implement the new-style Delta Plan for the cabinet. In the Delta Act, the Delta Commissioner is allocated the powers needed to carry out his tasks properly. These powers are anchored in the Delta Act. This means that the position carries so much weight that the Cabinet opted for appointing a government commissioner for the Delta Programme. Another administrative innovation that will attract attention.”

How does the Delta Programme differ from everything the Netherlands has accomplished over recent years to keep our country safe from the water?

“Since the 1953 flood disaster, the Netherlands has accomplished a great deal to protect the country, its citizens and our economy from the whims of the sea. That resulted in the Delta Works, a great hydraulic engineering project that gained us international acclaim. In the 1990s, we faced a threat from the rivers, whereupon we initiated the Maaswerken [Meuse Works] and Ruimte voor de Rivier [Room for Rivers] programmes. Dikes have been raised in order to prevent recurrent flooding and the rivers have been given more room. However, these are measures taken after a disaster or near-disaster. The new-style Delta Plan is aimed at preventing possible disasters in such a manner as to combine safety and spatial quality in a smart and innovative manner. This means that we also have an eye for ecological values. A number of projects is already in full swing because the reinforcement of weak links and the river projects are now also covered by the Delta Programme. Thus, the Delta Programme combines current projects with plans for the future so that we will be well prepared.”

What impact will the Delta Programme have on the Netherlands in the year to come – and beyond?

“The Delta Programme, the new-style Delta Plan, consists of ongoing projects as well as nine sub-programmes. Obviously, the ongoing projects are already visible. A good example is the sand suppletion that is taking place along the coast and projects like the Noordwaard (Biesbosch) in ‘Room for Rivers’.
Of the nine sub-programmes, three affect the Netherlands as a whole. The other six pertain to specific areas: the IJsselmeer area, the Wadden region, the coast, the rivers, the Rhine estuary-Drechtsteden and the south-western delta. By 2015, structural decisions will have been submitted to the government about how we can protect the Netherlands from high water in the century ahead and ensure that there is a sufficient supply of freshwater. For example, if Rotterdam were to develop plans for urban development in the old port area, you would like to know how these areas are protected from rising sea and river water. Consequently, we need to make some swift decisions in order to get on with town and country planning in the Netherlands. This includes measures relating to our fresh water supply, because our IJsselmeer plays an important role in that respect, while soil salination is increasing in the south-western parts of our country. This puzzle demands a solution within the next few years and that is what I am here for".

Proper co-operation between the numerous parties involved is a key condition for a successful Delta Programme. How do you intend to promote that co-operation?

“Within the sub-programmes, the municipalities, provinces and water boards will join forces, under the direction of the project director concerned. Civil society organisations will be involved to a significant extent. The Delta Commissioner will ensure that the new-style Delta Plan will be implemented in its entirety, so that certain elements of the programme do not have to wait for others to be completed or decisions being made that have an adverse effect on other aspects. This is provided for by the so-called ‘Delta Decisions’, structuring and determinative decisions within the programme. A programme of this scope – involving the safety and sustainability of our country for this century – will only work with proper collaboration at all levels (from the municipalities to the state). And don’t forget the other parties involved: knowledge institutions, civil society organisations, the business community and of course, citizens. I have every confidence in a good collaboration. I have noticed a considerable involvement in the Netherlands when it comes to water. Everyone is aware of the interests that are at stake. Our main focus will be collaboration – across the formal structures – between the authorities and between the sub-programmes. And keeping in touch with the many parties involved in society. It is the sense of urgency and working with water that has made the Netherlands great.”’

Our knowledge in the field of water reaches far beyond our borders. Can we still learn from other countries?

“Worldwide, we have earned a tremendous reputation in the field of water. Our water and delta technologies are renowned throughout the world. The Dutch business community and Dutch knowledge institutions have earned quite a reputation in the international context. And the Dutch government is also working in concert with countries looking for solutions to water issues. For example, the Directorate-General for Public Works and Water Management is co-operating closely with its counterparts in the US and China. Thus, the Netherlands has plenty to offer. I can even imagine that our new-style Delta Plan will attract attention abroad – as will, perhaps, the position of Delta Commissioner. An institutional innovation as an export product. The fact that a government commissioner has been appointed for an extensive project is unique. However, we should not just ‘bring’ knowledge; we can also learn from other countries that are active in the area of water."