Adequate supplies of fresh water are crucial in our country, not least for dike stability, nature, drinking water and electricity. Many economic sectors – such as agriculture, shipping and industry – depend on fresh water. These sectors play a substantial role in our national economy. Adequate supplies of fresh water are also important for public health and the urban living environment, and to tackle land subsidence.
There is not always enough fresh water to meet demand. That became clear during the prolonged droughts in the summers of 2018 and 2019, the spring of 2020, and the summer of 2022. The drought led to difficulties in a range of locations. There was damage in agricultural and natural areas as a result of salinisation and the lack of fresh water, and there were problems with water quality in urban and rural areas. Low groundwater levels led to additional land subsidence and damage to foundations. There were also difficulties for shipping because of low water levels in the rivers. It is expected that dry periods of this kind will be more frequent in the future, as shown by the climate signals from the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI). The limits of the water system are coming into view. Making water and soil leading for spatial planning will ensure that the Netherlands continues to be liveable and climate-robust in the future.
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Delta Decision and Delta Plan
Fresh water is one of the three themes in the Delta Programme. The general policy has been set out in the Freshwater Delta Decision. The core of that policy is to make the Netherlands resilient to freshwater shortages by 2050. Concrete measures for the implementation of the policy are described in the Freshwater Delta Plan.
National Freshwater Strategy
The Climate-Resilient Freshwater Supplies in the Main Water System strategy is a new national freshwater strategy for the main water system. The objectives are to retain water, get it to the right place (where it is needed) and save fresh water. Work has taken place on this strategy over the past few years, and further refinements will be made in the years ahead. The Delta Programme is formulating the freshwater objectives for the time to come (2028-2033) in more concrete terms. Some items in the freshwater strategy will also be amended for the new Delta Decision in 2026. The ultimate aim to make the Netherlands resilient to freshwater shortages by 2050.
Preventing water shortages is only possible if there are concerted efforts from all government authorities and users of fresh water. Rijkswaterstaat and the water authorities can improve freshwater influx routes and build up buffers. Major water users, such as business, farmers and horticulturalists, and nature management authorities, can focus on saving water and adapting land use to water availability.
Learning from water shortages
In late 2018, the Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management established the Drought Policy Platform with the aim of learning from the droughts in 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2022. In 2019, the policy platform published a final report with 46 recommendations. It sets out how the Netherlands can be more resilient to water shortages. The Drought Policy Platform consisted of representatives from all government authorities, the drinking water companies (Vewin), the Freshwater Administrative Platform (BPZ) and the staff of the Delta Commissioner. Water users were involved through the Physical Environment Consultative Body.
Knowledge and innovation
Robust freshwater supplies require new technologies, practices and business methods. Research and innovation are therefore an important component of the Freshwater Delta Programme. Under the Innovative Climate Adaptation Pilot Projects for Fresh Water programme, more than 25 pilot projects were conducted from 2015 onwards. The topics covered were: improving the use of freshwater sources, storing and retaining fresh water, and using water more sparingly and managing it more intelligently.
Knowledge about fresh water is kept up-to-date with the knowledge agenda of the Freshwater Delta Programme. This knowledge agenda is updated annually and provides an overview of the progress and outcomes of the programmes, studies and pilot projects in the Freshwater Delta Programme. The results of studies and pilot projects are shared at knowledge days and during national and regional presentations.
Temporary arrangement to incentivise measures in the second phase of the Freshwater Delta Programme
On 22 July 2022, the SPUK (specific allowance arrangement) Temporary arrangements to stimulate measures in the second phase of the Freshwater Delta Programme was published in the Government Gazette. This means that SPUK applications could be submitted from 22 July onwards. The aim of the arrangement is to encourage and facilitate the adoption of measures that contribute to increasing water availability. The arrangement is open only to the freshwater regions.