Scenarios for the Deltas of Tomorrow:

Study highlights options for water resilience in the Netherlands

30 May 2024 by The Water Diplomat

On the 24th of April, Deltares, a water policy research institute based on the Netherlands, presented its latest study on possible scenarios for the water management and spatial planning in the Netherlands in the coming decades. The study, published every 6 years and based on data and insights from the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI), the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL), Wageningen University & Research and Deltares, was officially presented to the Minister for Infrastructure and Water Management, Mark Harbers.

The document puts forward four scenarios for change between the year 2050 and 2100, and highlights choices that need to be made to water and land use policies until the end of the 21st century.  The main factors to be taken into account in policy decisions include the effects of climate change, mitigation measures aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and socio-economic and spatial developments (demographics, urbanisation, emergence of new water uses, and economic development). The research shows that whichever scenario turns out to be closest to the truth, it would appear that even for a high rainfall country like the Netherlands,  water shortages are set to increase in the coming years, while the management of excess water and floods will become increasingly problematic.

The trade-offs during summer water shortages between different needs – those of agriculture, navigation, adequate management of natural reserves (and in particular peatlands as carbon sinks), access to drinking water for populations, energy and economic activities - will be increasingly complex. In addition, the issue of increasing salinity of both land and water resources is also a major problem highlighted in the document.

On the other hand, excess water is to be expected during peak summer storms, but especially during the long winter rainy season, when a number of factors - flooding, saturated soils, and rising sea levels due to storms or tides - can accumulate, creating a dangerous situation for populations living behind dykes in developed areas, as well as road closures, energy problems or problems of access to critical infrastructures such as hospitals, for example. For the Netherlands’ Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, these scenario’s facilitate scenarios facilitate policy-making and highlight the bottlenecks that will appear in the medium and long term, as well as providing possible solutions to these issues.

After the presentation of the study's conclusions Minister Harbers stated : “(...). The scenarios show that water-related challenges can only increase in the future, while freshwater reserves are already under pressure today. It's clear that we need to take measures against extreme weather conditions. We are already working on this in various ways, for example by storing more freshwater in the IJsselmeer so that we can draw on it during dry periods. We are also enforcing stricter building regulations in flood-prone areas. We can do even more: the scenarios show that winters will become wetter, which means we have to do even better at retaining and storing water to get through the drier summers”.

Drawing on its national expertise, the Kingdom of the Netherlands will be hosting a major conference at Delft University from June 16th to 18th, with researchers and policymakers from eight delta regions around the world, with the aim of promoting the exchange of knowledge between delta regions, particularly with regard to long-term planning.