Adequate supplies of fresh water are crucial in our country, for example to safeguard dike stability, nature, and for supplies of drinking water and power. Many economic sectors – such as agriculture, shipping and industry – depend on fresh water. These sectors account for some 16 per cent of our national economy. Adequate supplies of fresh water are also important for public health and the urban living environment, and for tackling 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, and in the spring of 2020. 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. 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 KNMI’s Climate Signal ’21. 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 strategy will be elaborated during the next six years. The objectives are: to get water to the right place (where it is needed) and save fresh water.
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.
Drought Policy Platform
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 and 2020. 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. Some of the recommendations are being implemented and some have been completed. The Drought Policy Platform consisted of representatives from all government agencies, 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 between 2015 and 2021. 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.