4. New water management in the Netherlands

Salt marshes near Sint Philipsland
Salt marshes
In the Netherlands, dealing with water is a continuous struggle that has shaped the country’s culture and the way the Dutch perceive the world around them. As a result, the Dutch have turned the threat of living in a complex delta region into a series of opportunities, constantly innovating to produce new solutions and products that contribute to Dutch Delta Technology. Dutch Delta Technology is the Dutch integrated approach which enables living in delta areas. Besides the traditional, core disciplines water management and hydraulic engineering, it encompasses many fields of expertise such as spatial planning and ecology which add up to innovative solutions.

4.1 Our experience

The Netherlands is not just a flat low-lying country. A substantial part of it has been reclaimed from the sea! If there were no levees, dunes or storm-surge barriers, 66% of the country, including cities like Amsterdam, The Hague and Rotterdam would flood on a regular basis. Moreover, this flooding would consume the high-earning areas, which account for up to 70% of the country’s GDP.
The Netherlands is also a country with a high population density (465 people per square kilometer). This, combined with an economy largely related to transport, navigation and ports, results in pressure on space and environment that has to be managed carefully. To do this, the Dutch plan by involving relevant stakeholders, to design sustainable engineering solutions and ‘smart’ infrastructures for complex settings.

4.2 Our challenge

The Netherlands is challenged by two impacts of climate change: rises in sea level and changing rainfall patterns. The latter resulting in more frequent and increased peak discharges, as well as local droughts and wet periods. Like many other delta areas, the Netherlands are also vulnerable to land subsidence. However, environmental challenges are not the only problems the delta areas have to face. Considerable pressure is also exerted by population growth and the associated rise in demand for space and resources such as drinking water. The Dutch will continue to live in their delta for centuries to come, and therefore keep producing innovative solutions to face delta challenges.

4.3 Our approach

To help address the problems it faces, the Netherlands relies on a highly developed institutional setting and detailed plans for sustainable water management. When developing appropriate measures, the Dutch begin by ensuring that they thoroughly understand the water system they are dealing with. The Dutch are world leaders in terms of their knowledge of hydraulics, subsidence, salt-water intrusion, and aquatic ecology. And, they recognize the importance of integrating this understanding of natural systems with efforts to address the socio-economic aspects of systems at a larger scale (in river basins) and at a smaller scale (in urban areas).

4.4 Our action

Many projects are currently being implemented in the Netherlands to secure more ‘Room for Water’. For example, until recently it was standard policy to raise the crest levels of the levees to maintain the required level of flood protection. This centuries old policy was abandoned in 2000 in favor of ‘Room for the River’. In the new policy, river cross sections are widened by situating the levees further away from the river, or by lowering the river forelands. Care is taken not to affect valuable features of landscape, nature and cultural history. The approach aims at a balance between present and foreseeable future spatial requirements, keeping an open eye for every opportunity to enhance safety as well as the master landscaping and the improvement of overall environmental conditions.

4.5 Our vision

To treat the challenges of the future responsibly the Netherlands will continue with the development of innovative plans, products and services, which will be good for the situation in the Netherlands. Above that it may be of international use. We will accelerate the innovation-cycle through a better cooperation in authorities, knowledge institutions, market parties and social organizations; to bring together different assessment-fields of expertise. At the moment all its interesting development are visible, like risk-based design solutions, innovative levee and levee reinforcement and levee inspection techniques, flood warning systems, and expertise in multiple land-use. The Netherlands is a pilot project for innovative delta-solutions, enabling delta-life.