Water management in the 21st century

Space for water- During the past few years, people have started to realize that there is no sense in continually enlarging dikes. Already for every dike enforcement enormous investments have to be made and, sometimes, large numbers of houses close to the dike have to be removed. If the sea level is to rise by one meter, raising the dikes is not a feasible solution. Change in the infrastructure of Dutch water management will be necessary to survive the next few centuries. The government has developed a new policy in which it is a priority to set aside more space for water. If we do not allocate extra space for water now, it will eventually inundate our existing structures, causing irreparable damage to property and life. One of the measures is to designate areas which can be flooded in case of emergency. This measure can protect densely populated areas by allowing flooding of more sparsely populated areas. However, such a plan is often a hard sell for people currently living in potential flooding zones, since it would in many cases entail leaving their homes or rearranging their communities. Apart from this, floodplains and areas near the river are “given back to the river” on a permanent base. This should reduce the pressure on dikes and other waterworks during extreme events. Indeed, it is counterintuitive to many people that land that has been inhabited by people for centuries be given back to the sea or a river. What counts most, however, is the safety of all Dutch people. Polders will not be flooded without reason. Only by accepting that water will require more space can we ensure that the Netherlands will stay safe and habitable in the future.

Coastal protection- Increasing risks, Larger consequences: It is expected that by the end of the 21st century, the sea level will have risen by 20 centimeters. This means that the water of the North Sea will be standing 20 centimeters higher against the Dutch dikes and dunes. Other predictions say that within one hundred years, the sea level will rise by one meter! Regardless of whether it rises by 20 or 100 centimeters, the pressure on the Dutch coast will increase significantly. In the next century, much will need to be done to keep the Netherlands safe and dry. Besides the changes outside the dikes, many changes have taken place within the Dutch polders since the flood of 1953. Both population and wealth have greatly increased over the last fifty years. A flood like the one of 1953 would therefore have larger consequences today than it had fifty years ago: more lives could be lost and the financial and economic damage would be far greater. This means that dikes are not only necessary because the flooding risks are increasing, but also because the damage will be relatively worse. We now face a much higher risk with much more serious consequences.

Safety- The Dutch government has been issuing advisories on coastal protection to clarify its policy on coastal protection. In 2000, the Ministry of Transport and Public Works published the Third Coastal Note, titled “Tradition, Trends and the Future.” The main point of the article is that the interest of public safety must be balanced with the interest of keeping land available to the public. Coastal areas do have a protective function, but they have other functions as well. For centuries, the dunes have been a popular residential area. Moreover, people use the dunes for recreation and all kinds of plants and animals have made the coastal areas their adoptive natural habitat. A movement in favor of increased public safety necessarily means there will be less space for the other important functions of the Dutch coastal area. The key for integrated water management is to incorporate all of these distinctive aspects into one management plan.

Combating coastal erosion- Sand suppletion has been used as a way to combat coastal erosion. By discharging large quantities of sand onto the beach and below sea level in front of the beach, the dunes can be protected from erosion. Although the coastal areas are safe today, intervention is necessary to be sure that the Netherlands will be secure for the future. In the long term, higher and broader dikes will be necessary. Rising sea levels will eventually undermine the infrastructure of the Delta Works. Broader dikes, however, imply more space for waterworks. One of the questions is whether this space should be created inland or seaward. Sand suppletion is a seaward activity, but dike enlargement inland cannot be avoided. To face the future rise of the sea level, some areas will have to be 'surrendered' as coastal protection areas. In the province of Zeeland, this will be the southwest coast of Walcheren and the west of Zeeland Flanders. Most of the time there is enough space available in dunes for the protection of the coast, although not in the proximity of the seaside resorts. A risk profile can be created for these cities and villages. Around many locations, a red line can be drawn, outside which new buildings and infrastructure are not allowed. By balancing (1) coastal protection, (2) environmental planning, and (3) nature and landscape, the Dutch coast can be managed.

The National Water Agreement- On July 2nd, 2003, the Dutch national government, the county councils/boards, the local authorities and the Rijkswaterstaat (which may be compared to the Department of Public Works) signed the National Water Agreement. A new form of water management is needed, since meteorological changes including extreme periods of drought and precipitation are predicted. A new policy has to be developed also because of fluctuations in river drainage and the rising sea level. This policy follows the objectives of sustainable water management. In contrast to the past, it is no longer acceptable to drain excessive water out to sea, but to retain it at the location it naturally reaches (e.g. through of precipitation). If retaining is not an option, water can be stored in allocated areas. When water levels in rivers are too high, dikes are sometimes opened up deliberately so that water can stream into pre-selected polders, The water reservoir can be drawn upon in dry season.

A number of projects in 2003 were: het Woolde near Hengelo, rainwater seperation in Nijmegen, de Oost polder near Anna Paulowna, the Lappenvoort, Glimmermade and Oosterland polders, and the nature reserve Groote Brekken near Lemmer. These projects are at the forefront of Dutch water management for the 21st century. In years to come, 250 more projects will take place in order to create additional space for water storage.

The Dutch live with water- The threats that face the Dutch are taken seriously enough as to launch a campaign to inform citizens of the future prospects. August 15th, 2003, a campaign was launched, with the slogan ‘Nederland leeft met Water’, which roughly translates to ‘the Dutch Live with Water’. The relationship between the Dutch and their water is being emphasized in public discourse. A lot of attention is paid to the question of how the Dutch will deal with water in the future, via advertisements, radio and television commercials, billboards and the Internet. Meteorologist Peter Timofeeff plays an important role in this campaign, as he explains why some measures will be unavoidable. It is striking that such a campaign is needed. The dikes seem strong and safe and few people realize what could happen if the water management system would fail (due to war, extreme nature events, or the like.)

Internationalization of water management- Water management is more and more done on a river basin level and therefore water boards are required to work together with collogues in Germany, Switzerland, France and Belgium. What happens upstream in the river basin is extremely important to the Netherlands. If, for instance, large retention areas are established in Germany, the risks of flooding in the Netherlands are much lower. Water management has become the trademark of the Netherlands. Worldwide Dutch water specialists are consulted both for technical as well as for social (governance) aspects of water management.