A sufficient supply of fresh water is crucial in our country, with a view to, e.g., the stability of dykes, nature, the provision of drinking water, and power supply. Many economic sectors depend on fresh water, such as the agriculture sector, the shipping sector, and many industries. These sectors account for some 16 per cent of our national economy. A sufficient supply of fresh water is also important to sustain public health, to keep urban environments liveable, and to combat soil subsidence.
Freshwater supplies are not always sufficient to meet the demand. The prolonged periods of drought in 2018, 2019 and spring of 2020 gave us this insight. At several locations, the drought has caused problems. Agricultural areas and nature reserves were damaged by salinisation and a lack of fresh water. Urban and rural areas were affected by water quality issues. Low groundwater levels caused additional subsidence and foundation damage. The shipping sector also experienced problems due to low river water levels. Expectations are that such periods of drought will occur more frequently in the future. This means that we will need to continue to invest in preparing the Netherlands for drought.
Delta Decision and Delta Plan
Freshwater supply is one of the three topics addressed by the Delta Programme. General policy has been set down in the Delta Decision on Freshwater Supply. Its essence is that by 2050, the Netherlands must be resilient against freshwater shortages. Actual measures for the implementation of this policy are outlined in the Delta Plan on Freshwater Supply.
National Freshwater Supply Strategy
An important “point on the horizon” in the pursuit of the Netherlands’ resilience against freshwater shortages is the elaboration of a new national freshwater supply strategy for the main water system: the Climate-proof Main Water System Freshwater Supply Strategy.
Preventing water shortages requires collective efforts on the part of all the government authorities and freshwater consumers. Rijkswaterstaat and the district water boards can enhance the freshwater supply routes and amass stocks. Major water consumers, such as businesses using large volumes of water, farmers, horticulturists, and nature managers, can focus on economising and adapted land use. Only if all these stakeholders make an effort will the Netherlands continue to have a sufficient and affordable supply of fresh water in the long run.
Policy Platform on Drought
At the end of 2018, the Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management set up the temporary Policy Platform on Drought, intended to convert the lessons learned from the drought in recent summers into policy proposals. In 2019, the Policy Platform produced a final report comprising 46 recommendations to optimise the Netherlands’ resilience against drought. Some of the recommended measures are in progress and some have already been completed. The Policy Platform on Drought was composed of representatives of all the governments, the drinking water companies (Vewin), the Freshwater Administrative Platform, and the Staff of the Delta Programme Commissioner. Water consumers were involved through the Physical Environment Consultative Body.
Knowledge and innovation
A resilient freshwater supply calls for new technologies, methods, and operational management. For that reason, the Delta Plan on Freshwater Supply has been committed to research and innovation from the start. Under the Freshwater Supply Climate Adaptation Innovation Pilots programme, more than 25 pilot studies have been conducted in several regions, e.g., relating to more efficient use of freshwater sources; freshwater storage and collection; economising on water consumption; and more efficient water distribution. These studies have produced various successes.
Freshwater Supply Studies (2022-2027)