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. This became manifest during the prolonged periods of drought in 2018, 2019, and 2020. 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. 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 rendering the Netherlands 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: 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.
Drought Policy Platform
At the end of 2018, the Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management set up the temporary Drought Policy Platform. Its aim is to translate the lessons learned during the recent summer droughts into policy proposals, in order to be better prepared for future dry seasons. The Drought Policy Platform is composed of representatives of the government authorities (the central government, Association of Provincial Authorities, Association of Dutch Regional Water Authorities, Association of Netherlands Municipalities) and of drinking water companies (Vewin). The Freshwater Administrative Platform and the Staff of the Delta Programme Commissioner are also represented in order to safeguard a proper liaison with the Delta Plan on Freshwater Supply. Water consumers are involved through the Physical Environment Consultative Body.
Knowledge and innovation
Whether it is retention, efficient control, or economising on freshwater consumption: a resilient freshwater supply calls for new technologies, methods, and operational management. For that reason, the Delta Plan on Freshwater Supply focuses a great deal of attention on innovative pilot projects. Over recent years, such projects have produced a range of results. These will bear application on a wider scale and provide a basis for further development. In the years ahead, new pilot projects will continue to be rolled out.