Delta Programme 2021

The corona crisis shows that the Netherlands is dependent on developments elsewhere in the world. Climate change also revolves around uncertainties and worldwide dependency. To safeguard our long-term security and liveability, continuing the work on a climate-proof and water-resilient delta is imperative. The sea level is rising, perhaps even faster than expected. Extreme weather – such as torrential rain, heat, and drought – is occurring increasingly frequently.

Six-year review

The Delta Programme focuses on the societal goals regarding flood risk management, freshwater availability, and spatial adaptation. Every six years, the Delta Programme organisation, in collaboration with research institutes and independent researchers, assesses whether decisions taken earlier still hold good. Any adaptations required will be incorporated into the Delta Programme.

Delta Programme 2021 features proposals for amended Delta Decisions, Strategies, and measures. The main conclusions are:

  • After 2050, an acceleration in the rise in sea level may add considerably to the freshwater supply and flood risk management taskings;
  • For the period up to 2050, the Delta Decisions and Preferential Strategies are still indicating the right course. The Delta Decision on Freshwater Supply requires some fine-tuning;
  • Additional attention needs to be focused on the efficient implementation of the measures, which are aimed at the realisation of the targets by 2050.

Click here for an overview of the main amendments to the Delta Decisions.

Looking farther ahead

In the years ahead, the Delta Programme will be addressing the implementation of measures; in addition, attention will be focused on long-term policy development. This means: looking ahead to the period beyond 2050. With respect to major interventions, such as the construction of new engineering structures (e.g., sluices, locks, weirs, and storm surge barriers) and dyke improvements, the Delta Programme factors in a maximum rise in sea level of 1 metre up until 2100. However, the sea level rise could turn out more drastic, especially when it comes to the period after 2100. 

Sea Level Rise Knowledge Programme

In 2019, the Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management and the Delta Programme Commissioner initiated the Sea Level Rise Knowledge Programme. Within this programme, government bodies, research institutes, businesses, planners, and NGOs are pursuing new expertise on flood risk management and freshwater availability. The programme is intended to:

  • Reduce uncertainties regarding the rising sea level;
  • Map out the tenability of the current Delta Decisions and Strategies in extreme scenarios regarding the rise in sea level and salinisation (salinisation refers to the increase in salinity in the soil, in groundwater, and in surface water);
  • Explore long-term action perspectives;
  • Explore spatial reservations required to keep long-term options open. 

The outcomes will be available for the second six-year review.

Integrated River Management Programme

The Rhine and Meuse strategies are reviewed along a separate route. These rivers are covered by the Integrated River Management (IRM) programme. The central government and the region are addressing the taskings in the area around the major rivers up to 2050, looking ahead to 2100. The parties are working on an integrated perspective of the area around the major rivers. 

Progress per theme

Flood risk management

New standards

Primary flood defences (dykes, dams, and dunes) protect the Netherlands from flooding. By 2050, all the flood defences in the Netherlands are required to meet the new standards. The district water boards and Rijkswaterstaat are now mapping out which flood defence systems need improvement. This process must be completed within six years. By no later than 31 December 2023, the Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management will inform the House of Representatives on the outcomes. By July 2020, 25 per cent of all the primary flood defences had been assessed.

Another thirty years

Achieving the goal of meeting the new standards by 2050 will require the completion of an annual average of approx. 50 kilometres of dyke improvements between now and 2050. The schedule for the period 2021-2032 features:

  • The improvement of 698 kilometres of dykes;
  • The improvement of 171 engineering structures under the Flood Protection Programme.

Several project-level delays have been incurred. These delays can be remedied through technological developments and through measures being implemented by the governments. This calls for an adequate approach on the part of managing bodies, the alliance of district water boards, and Rijkswaterstaat.

Areas behind the dykes

Strong dykes are important, as are sensible choices regarding the planning of areas behind those dykes. Spatial (re)development must not add to the risk of damage and casualties caused by flooding or extreme weather. This is the point of departure in spatial planning projects. It is imperative to:

  • Provide clarity regarding potential locations for long-term construction projects, factoring in flood protection;
  • Explore the impact of flooding and extreme weather, and strategies to address such impact.

On the recommendation of the Delta Programme Signal Group, experts have analysed whether the construction of 1 million houses up to 2040 will impact the standards for primary flood defences. This was found not to be the case. The standards for flood defences do not need adjustment. With respect to the construction of these houses it is, however, important to focus additional attention on flood impact reduction.

Freshwater supply

The freshwater supply must be resilient against prolonged periods of drought, as has once again been demonstrated by the dry summers of 2018 and 2019, and by the dry spring of 2020. 

Water Availability process

The Water Availability process will be intensified on the basis of the findings of the Drought Policy Platform. In this respect, the assumption that in the future, every area will have a sufficient supply of fresh water at any time is not realistic. For that reason, the Delta Programme is also exploring options for more efficient water retention and water distribution, and for adapting land use to water availability. This is particularly important for areas that are prone to salinisation and for areas that cannot be supplied from the main water system.

Additional investments

The Delta Programme parties are drawing up a new set of freshwater investments, intended to climate-proof the freshwater supply from the main water system through, e.g., more efficient control mechanisms to distribute fresh water from the main water system across the various parts of the Netherlands in times of drought. The investments involve a sum of 800 million euros over the period 2022-2027. The investments will be funded from the Delta Fund, supplemented by funding from provinces, district water boards, municipalities, and other parties such as drinking water companies.

Spatial adaptation

Stress tests and risk dialogues

The vast majority of the district water boards, municipalities, and provinces indicate that they have conducted stress tests (which map out vulnerabilities to extreme weather). Furthermore, several local governments have embarked on risk dialogues with residents, businesses, and organisations that are directly affected by the impact of such vulnerabilities. This marks the completion of the first two of a total of seven steps in the Delta Plan on Spatial Adaptation. 

Incentive Scheme

For the years ahead, the collective governments have scheduled additional investments to give impetus to the implementation of spatial adaptation projects. In early 2020, the Senate and the House of Representatives endorsed an amendment to the Water Act, enabling the allocation of Delta Fund resources to co-fund measures to combat waterlogging.

The collective governments have reached consensus regarding an Incentive Scheme that will take effect on 1 January 2021. Any Working Region (or combination of Working Regions) may submit a proposal for measures to be implemented in the period 2021-2027. The Ministry uses a formula, based on population count and surface area, to divide the resources across the Working Regions. The central government will contribute a maximum of 33 per cent. The local and regional governments in each Working Region will co-fund the remaining 67 per cent by mutual agreement.