2023 Delta Programme

The latest scientific insights and the floods in Limburg, Germany and Belgium in 2021 demonstrate that climate change is – unfortunately – also becoming increasingly manifest in our part of the world in the form of extreme rainfall, floods, heat waves, periods of drought and sea level rise. They also demonstrate that change is accelerating, and that the consequences are more far-reaching than we assumed until recently. The Delta Programme describes how the Netherlands will deliver sound flood risk management, freshwater availability and spatial adaptation. The 2023 Delta Programme describes the progress made in the period 2021-2022 and the measures planned for the years ahead.

Limits in sight

The links between the short- and long-term agendas need to be stronger. This begins with making choices in the spatial domain. Not everything can be done everywhere, nor can everything be done the way we do it now. The limits of the water and soil system are in sight, and they have even been reached in some respects in terms of both drought and coping with extreme floods. 

In the years ahead, the regions will also have to work on major agendas such as housing construction and the energy transition. Water and soil will be leading in this respect. Spatial planning decisions based on water and soil can provide the right frameworks and boundary conditions for what needs to be done locally in specific areas. That is the only way we can make the Netherlands climate-resilient and water-robust. When allocating functions to an area, it is important to take into consideration the consequences of floods, problems with excess water, heat and drought.

Recommendations from the Signal Group

The Flood Protection Programme sets out the dyke improvements required to have the primary flood defences meet the statutory protection level by 2050. The Programme is now gaining momentum. Expectations are that by 2022, improvement projects for more than 600 kilometres of primary flood defences will be in preparation or in progress. Based on an initial estimate, a total of 1,300 kilometres of dykes will need to be improved by 2050. All the primary flood defences are currently being assessed. By 2023, we will know the exact scope of the required dyke improvements.

Starthandeling met schoolkinderen bij dijkversterking Heel-Beesel in Limburg. Fotograaf: Ger Peeters, Maart 2022
Image: Ger Peeters

Sea Level Rise

The Signal Group advises the drafting of guidelines for earmarking space for the longer term, for example for dikes or water storage. The Signal Group also advocates the drafting of requirements for buildings and their immediate surroundings (in order to create water storage capacity). Finally, the Signal Group recommends thinking about transformational strategies that operate at the system level and that can significantly change the functions and spatial structure of an area. This must be done in addition to the current adaptation strategies, which focus primarily on increasing adaptations of the current water system. A summary of the Signal Group’s recommendations and the Delta Commissioner’s response can be found in background document C.

Pluvial and River Flooding Policy Platform

In July 2021, there was extreme rainfall in an area half the size of the Netherlands. The result was severe flooding and problems with water in Limburg, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg. The Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management decided to establish a Pluvial and River Flooding Policy Platform (elsewhere on this site: the Flooding Policy Platform) with the aim of learning from the situation in Limburg. The first report from the policy platform states that our water systems, spatial planning and crisis management cannot prevent problems with water during such extreme precipitation events. However, it is possible to limit the damage and social disruption. A second, more detailed, advisory document will be published in the autumn of 2022.

Flood Protection Programme

Between now and 2050, dike upgrades will be needed over a total distance of 1,500 km. All primary flood defences are now being assessed. In 2023, we will know exactly how many dike upgrades will be needed. The Flood Protection Programme has not yet reached the intended rate of implementation. At present, seventy dike upgrades with the highest urgency are in the preparatory or implementation phases. Many projects are delayed, for example because of the local consultation process, the focus on synergy opportunities, or the impact of corona or nitrogen measures. Project delays can mean that other projects have to wait longer. The Flood Protection Programme alliance of water authorities and Rijkswaterstaat has acknowledged the problem and is taking measures in response. None of those involved question the necessity for all dikes to comply with the standard for flood risk management by 2050 at the latest. 

Coordination and connections

The Netherlands is facing major transitions in agriculture, housing and energy. All these transitions are linked to the goals of the Delta Programme. The freshwater regions, the working regions of the Delta Programme for Spatial Adaptation and the areas in the Delta Programme have an important role to play in establishing coordination and connections between the various transitions and the goals of the Delta Programme. 

In two advisory letters, the Delta Commissioner addressed the housing agenda and climate adaptation. In addition, water and soil must become leading factors in spatial planning. This applies to construction methods but also to the spatial planning of areas and to the locations where construction takes place. 

Knowledge Programme for Cross-Border River Discharges and Discharge Distribution

In 2021, the Delta Commissioner recommended the establishment of a Knowledge Programme for Cross-Border River Discharges and Discharge Distribution. In the river area, we are seeing higher peak discharges, and longer periods of both low and high discharge. It is the question whether the currently available knowledge is adequate to assess whether the Delta Decisions should be adapted.

Sea level rise

The possible accelerated sea level rise will eventually have a major impact on the agenda for flood risk management and freshwater supplies. The partners of the Delta Programme have initiated analyses as part of the Sea Level Rise Knowledge Programme: how tenable and flexible are the regional strategies in place? For each area, the Delta Programme explores the consequences of extreme sea level rise, the options for the short and long terms, and the possible interaction with the investment agendas for renewable energy, housing, infrastructure, agriculture and nature. The initial results will be available in the latter half of 2022.

Integrated River Management Programme

In this programme, the national and regional government authorities are working on an integrated vision for the river area. In 2021, work began on the development of a vision of the future for two river sections. The evaluation of this exercise resulted in a periodical evaluation of the IRM in 2022: policy decisions and frameworks will be set out in a Programme under the Environment Act (POW). After its adoption, work will begin on integrated elaboration for the specific areas. 

Progress per theme

Flood risk management

New standards

Primary water defences (dikes, dams, storm surge barriers, and dunes) protect the Netherlands against flooding from the sea, major rivers, and large lakes. All the primary defences in the Netherlands are required to meet new standards by 2050. This means that the basic level of protection must be in place by 2050 for everyone in the Netherlands. The water authorities and Rijkswaterstaat are now mapping out which defences need to be adapted. These assessments should be completed in 2022. The Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management will inform the House of Representatives about the results by 31 December 2023 at the latest.

Another thirty more years

In order to comply with the new standards by 2050, an average of 50 kilometres of dike upgrades will be required annually between now and 2050. This process will be slower during the early years because of the long preparation phase, and accelerate thereafter. For the period 2021-2032, the timetable includes:

  • upgrading 698 kilometres of dikes;
  • upgrading 171 engineering structures under the Flood Protection Programme.

Afsluitdijk Barrier Dam

One of the larger dike upgrade operations is the strengthening of the Afsluitdijk. In addition to reinforcing the dike over a distance of more than thirty kilometres, this project involves building two pumping stations and two floodgates, and the construction of an opening in the dike for fish migration. These elements are scheduled to be completed no later than 2023. Two other parts of the project have been delayed: the construction of new discharge sluices and the renovation of the existing discharge sluices.

Spatial quality

In 2021, the HWBP alliance moved forward in the Programmatic Approach for Sustainability and Spatial Quality. The aim is to support the transition to sustainable, climate-neutral and circular upgrades with spatial quality. The goal is to include sustainability and spatial quality on a structural basis in all Flood Protection Programme projects effective 2023.

To the Flood Risk Management theme

Fresh water

Priority sequence

Freshwater supplies must be in a position to cope with long dry periods. That has been seen once again after the dry spring of 2020 and the dry summer of 2022. A priority sequence for regional water management was introduced during the periodical evaluation of the Delta Programme in 2020: spatial planning must take into consideration water availability, the economic use of water, water retention, the smart allocation of water and accepting damage. These guiding principles have now also been included in the National Environment Planning Vision (NOVI) and the draft National Water Programme for 2022-2027 (NWP). It is very important for the Netherlands to be resilient to water shortages by 2050.


The implementation of the Delta Plan for Freshwater Phase 1 (2015-2021) has now been completed. A total of 37 measures were implemented during this period. Work is still continuing on 24 measures, with the completion of half of them expected by late 2022. The measures for the second phase of the Freshwater Delta Plan have also been adopted. More than half of the investments in this phase are planned for the High-Lying Areas with Sandy Soils with the aim of making the switch to better water retention. 

The Climate-Resilient Freshwater Supplies in the Main Water System (KZH) strategy has been drawn up for the main water system. The aim of the KZH is to use the Rhine and Meuse water more efficiently and to allocate the water during times of scarcity on the basis of requirements and measurements.

Extra investment package

The parties in the Delta Programme have drawn up a new investment package for freshwater measures during the past year. It will be used to make water supplies through the main water system and the regional system more climate-resilient. Examples include measures to retain water better in groundwater and surface water, and better management options for the allocation of fresh water from the main water system to the different areas of the Netherlands during dry periods. The package of measures will amount to 800 billion euros in the period 2022-2027. For the investment package, 250 million euros will be financed from the Delta Fund and 550 million euros by provincial and municipal authorities, water authorities and other parties, including drinking water companies.

To the Fresh Water theme

Spatial adaptation

Stress tests, risk dialogues and implementation agendas

The vast majority of water authorities, and provincial and municipal authorities, have conducted stress tests to identify vulnerabilities to extreme weather. Risk dialogues have also been completed and implementation agendas have been established almost everywhere. In early 2022, a survey was completed of the progress of the work in the regions. This shows that the main challenges in the field of spatial adaptation are the large number of claims on space, and the capacity required for the steps to be taken and for the implementation of concrete projects. 

Rijkswaterstaat and ProRail also completed their stress tests and risk dialogues in 2021. Rijkswaterstaat’s results for the main road and waterway networks and the main water system have been incorporated in the Rijkswaterstaat Climate Impact Atlas and the Implementation Agenda for Climate-Resilient Networks. ProRail’s results will follow later in 2022.  

National Approach to Climate Adaptation in the Built Environment

The Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality and the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport are working together on a ‘National approach to climate adaptation in the built environment 2022-2025, towards green, climate-adaptive towns and villages’. This document sets out which actions are needed and how the national government intends to work with other government authorities and stakeholders. After the summer of 2022, the action programme will be sent to the House of Representatives. An important component is the development of a national yardstick stating exactly what climate-resilient and water-robust construction involves.

Stimulus scheme

The Climate Adaptation Stimulus Scheme went into effect on 1 January 2021. This scheme is intended for measures in the period 2021-2027. A working region (or combination of working regions) may submit a proposal. In the first year, more than half of the 45 working regions submitted an official application. Fifteen applications were processed in 2021. Including the financial contributions from the working regions themselves, the package of measures in the 2021 applications amounts to nearly € 150 million.

To the Spatial Adaptation theme