What is the Delta Programme?

The government seeks to protect the Netherlands, now and in the future, against flooding and to secure a sufficient supply of fresh water. Furthermore, the government seeks to design our country in a climate-proof and water-resilient manner. The plans to this end are set down in the Delta Programme, in collaboration with various government bodies and other organisations. The plans are developed under the auspices of the government commissioner for the Delta Programme: the Delta Commissioner.

Increased rainfall, rising sea levels, higher temperatures

After the disastrous flood of 1953, the government took measures to better protect the country against flooding. For example, in the past century agreements were made regarding the height of dykes and regarding coastal management. Yet now, several decades later, circumstances have changed:

  • The sea level is rising, possibly at an accelerated rate, while soil subsidence is continuing;
  • Torrential rains are increasing in frequency and intensity;
  • The temperature is rising;
  • The climate is becoming drier.

Furthermore, a flood would have a greater impact today than it would have had 66 years ago. The population of the Netherlands has increased, which means that in the event of a flood, there would be more casualties than in the past. Nearly 60 per cent of the Netherlands is at risk of becoming inundated by flood waters. This area comprises the largest cities as well as the economic centre of the Netherlands. For these reasons, adequate protection from flooding – from the sea, rivers, and lakes alike – is vitally important.

This is why the Netherlands needs to look far ahead and draw up sound plans for the future. These plans are presented in the annual Delta Programme.

What is the Delta Programme?

Aim of the Delta Programme

The aim is to ensure that our flood risk management, freshwater supply, and spatial planning will be climate-proof and water-resilient by 2050, so that our country will continue to be able to cope with the increasing weather extremes. This time around we will try and prevent a disaster, rather than devise measures on the aftermath.

For that reason, the government has adopted a new approach to working on the delta, in concert with other organisations, focusing on three areas:

  • New flood protection standards have been implemented: these are not only linked to the probability of flooding, but also to the impact of a flood (risk-based approach). The stringency of the standards is determined by the scope of the potential impact.
  • The availability of fresh water for agriculture, industry, and nature must become more predictable.
  • Spatial planning must become more climate-proof and water-resilient.

Adaptive delta management

Looking far ahead means factoring in uncertainties in climate change and socio-economic developments. The national government ensures that the Netherlands is prepared for various future scenarios. We choose strategies and measures that enable us to come up with a flexible response to new measurements taken and to new insights into, e.g., the climate. We are doing what we need to do at this time. Supplementary measures are ready, should we need them in the future. We call this approach adaptive delta management. All stakeholders view this approach as a pragmatic solution for dealing with developments that are uncertain.

Proposals for Delta Decisions

We need national frameworks to be able to put the new approach into practice. Since 2010, the Delta Programme has been working towards these frameworks, step by step, in collaboration with the authorities, NGOs, and the business community, capitalising on all available and new knowledge. In 2014, these efforts led to proposals for five widely supported “Delta Decisions”:

Supplementary to the above Decisions, the Delta Programme Commissioner has drawn up a proposal for addressing sand replenishment along the coast: the strategic Decision on Sand.

The Delta Decisions have been translated into area-specific strategies for the various parts of the Netherlands: the Preferential Strategies. These preferential strategies constitute the compass for the measures that are actually implemented. These measures are set out in the Delta Plans on Flood Risk Management, Freshwater Supply, and Spatial Adaptation. The annual Delta Programme sets out the progress made with respect to the elaboration and implementation of the Delta Decisions, preferential strategies, and Delta Plans.

The Cabinet has decided to embed the Delta Decisions in national policy. The new flood protection standards have already come into force. In addition, in 2014 representatives of the provinces, water authorities, and municipalities signed an administrative agreement with the Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment regarding the Delta Programme. Under this agreement, the regional and local authorities will embed the Delta Decisions and Preferential Strategies in their own plans. The national government has anchored the Delta Decisions as policy decisions in the National Water Plan.

What is the Delta Programme?

Delta Act

The legal agreements on the Delta Programme have been laid down in the Delta Act on Flood Risk Management and the Freshwater Supply. The Delta Act stipulates that a Delta Programme is to be drawn up every year. Under the Act, the Delta Programme must comprise plans to protect the Netherlands from high water and ensure a sufficient supply of fresh water. It must also contain a timetable and an overview of the costs. Finally, the Delta Act states that the Delta Programme must be presented to Parliament every year on Prinsjesdag, the state opening of Parliament in September. The Delta Act also provides for the Delta Fund and outlines the role of the Delta Programme Commissioner. The Delta Act took effect on 1 January 2012.

In the first half of 2016, the Delta Act was evaluated by an independent committee, on the instructions of the Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment. The evaluation committee takes a positive view of the approach and working methods adopted by the Delta Programme. The national and inter-administrative approach has proven crucial to the public support and trust garnered by the Delta Programme. Collective knowledge development – joint fact finding – has also been a decisive factor in the approach. A key challenge, according to the committee, is the shift from planning to implementation.

In the summer of 2016, the Cabinet provided its initial response to the evaluation, followed by a comprehensive response in the autumn of 2016. In these responses, the Cabinet indicated its satisfaction with the operations of the Delta Act, the Delta Programme, the Delta Fund, and the Delta Programme Commissioner over recent years. With a view to the taskings, the Cabinet deems it vitally important for the Delta Programme to maintain its support and momentum, and continue the collaboration with its partners. The outcomes of the evaluation do not constitute any reason for the Cabinet to amend the Delta Act. A more comprehensive Cabinet response is expected in the autumn of 2016.

Three Delta Plans

The Cabinet has decided to cluster all measures and projects to be implemented under the Delta Programme into Delta Plans: the Delta Plan on Flood Risk Management, the Delta Plan on Freshwater Supply, and (with effect from Delta Programme 2018) the Delta Plan on Spatial Adaptation. The measures may involve adaptations of the physical system, such as dyke improvements or pumps, as well as spatial reservations for future measures or instruments to promote desirable behaviour. In addition, regional measures may be incorporated into the Delta Plans.

The plans provide a concrete timetable for the years ahead, an agenda for the period after this cabinet term, and a glimpse of the major investment decisions that will have to be made after 2050. The measures ensue from the Delta Decisions and the area-based Preferential Strategies proposed by the Delta Programme Commissioner in 2014 and adopted by the Cabinet.

Funding and Delta Fund

The Delta Fund constitutes the imperative financial foundation for these investments. It is a solid foundation with an average annual budget of € 1.3 billion euros up to and including 2032. In 2016, the Cabinet decided to extend the Delta Fund annually by another year.

This confirms that in the future, too, we will have sufficient funds to continue to work on a safe delta and the attainment of the goals, and to schedule measures in a timely fashion.

Knowledge programme

We must continue to work on knowledge development and innovation. For this reason, the Delta Programme has set up a National Water and Climate Knowledge and Innovation Programme  (NKWK), together with the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, the Ministry of Economic Affairs, the Foundation for Applied Water Research (STOWA), the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI), the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL), Deltares, the independent research organisation TNO, Alterra, universities, and the Top Sector Water. By remaining a world leader in the field of water management, we can make our own country optimally water-resilient and climate-proof, thereby creating opportunities for the Dutch home market to make its mark at the international level.

What is the Delta Programme?

International perspective

The Delta Programme approach has now become an export product in itself: the Dutch Delta Approach is attracting a great deal of interest worldwide. Various countries have called upon the Dutch government and business community to help them implement the Delta Programme approach to address their own taskings.

Market and innovation

The business community will play an essential role in the water management of the future. With respect to flood risk management and freshwater supply taskings, innovative solutions are of great importance in developing more efficient, more cost effective, and more attractive measures. Over the past years, the Delta Programme has delivered innovations in the method of collaboration and administrative processes. The Delta Programme has added impetus to both through intensive cooperation between the national and regional governments. Now that the Delta Decisions are ready, the emphasis in the Delta Programme has shifted to implementation. The business community can tie in by developing and marketing (technological) innovations. This will also allow companies to make their mark internationally.

Flood risk management innovations include, for example, the Sand Engine off the coast of Zuid-Holland, a multifunctional combination dyke along the boulevard in Scheveningen, the use of geotextile to prevent piping, and “smart dykes” fitted with sensors which constantly measure the dyke’s stability.

Innovations are also needed regarding the freshwater supply and spatial adaptation. Examples include climate buffers; freshwater storage in the soil; controlled water storage on rooftops in order to retain rainwater temporarily, to be discharged at quiet moments; and IT applications for water management aimed at responding intelligently to an excess or shortage of water. The city of Delft has launched the “Water Street” project. This testing ground enables entrepreneurs to field-test their experiments, studies, and products aimed at coping more efficiently with severe downpours, drought, and heat in the city.

In terms of disaster management, yet other innovations are conceivable, such as the use of apps to warn the public quickly in the event of emergency situations, or Tube Barriers (mobile flood defence systems filled with water, as an alternative to sandbags).