What is the situation with the Delta Programme and water shortages?

There were long and exceptionally dry periods in 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2022. They caused a range of problems: the west, for example, had problems with the salinisation of fresh water inlets, shipping restrictions and more land subsidence; the high-lying areas with sandy soils had problems with the aridification of nature and damage to crops. Drinking water supplies were also under pressure.  

The dry periods made it clear that the measures implemented under the auspices of the Freshwater Delta Plan are effective. The Climate-Resilient Water Channel (KWA) is actually working better than expected. It can be used to allow fresh water to flow into the Western Netherlands via alternative routes in order to tackle salinisation, and to supply nature and agricultural areas with fresh water. In addition, the new IJsselmeer water level decree will make the water buffer larger and measures to retain water in areas of the country with sandy soils have proven effective. The dry periods boosted collaboration with parties working on the climate-adaptive implementation of agricultural and nature agendas. In the regions, connections are being established with the National Programme for Rural Areas. 

However, the dry years have also demonstrated that the freshwater supplies in the Netherlands are not yet resilient to water shortages. In addition, water shortages are increasing due to climate change and new demands for water to, for example, counter land subsidence. More work in this area is an urgent challenge. 

Freshwater Delta Plan

The objective of the Freshwater Delta Decision is for the Netherlands to be resilient to water shortages by 2050. The Freshwater Delta Plan sets out the measures to achieve that goal. A number of projects were initiated during the first phase of the Freshwater Delta Plan, some of which are continuing during the second phase (2022-2027). Measures have been implemented throughout the country to improve freshwater supplies. Approximately € 800 million in total is available for the second phase of the Delta Plan: € 250 million in the Delta Fund and € 540 million through regional co-financing. Rijkswaterstaat and the six freshwater regions have developed an ambitious package of some 150 measures. 

Examples of measures include:  

  • infrastructure changes, such as improving the supply route through the Krimpenerwaard for fresh water (Western Netherlands) and limiting salinisation at the Afsluitdijk (Rijkswaterstaat); 
  • innovative projects: such as experiments with alternative freshwater sources like brackish water, improving the soil structure of sandy and clay soils, and research looking at the cultivation of salt-tolerant crops in the Northern Netherlands; 
  • spatial adjustments to land use: such as removing paving or metalling, converting coniferous forests to deciduous forests, and filling in or closing off ditches in order to retain water (High-Lying Areas with Sandy Soils in the Eastern and Southern Netherlands); 
  • reuse of effluent from sewage treatment plants (Northern and Western Netherlands and the Southwest Delta).  

The final recommendations of the national Groundwater Study Group were also published in 2022. Those recommendations are also being used as input for the Groundwater Vision of the water authorities. The Study Group identified the groundwater challenges, analysed what is needed for the sustainable preservation of groundwater stocks, and states recommendations for improvements in its final report.