Managing drought calls for structural measures

Publication of report on ‘Drought in the sandy ground regions of Southern, Central and Eastern Netherlands’

The Water Authorities and the provinces commissioned knowledge institutions, including KWR, to research drought in the high sandy grounds. The investigation concludes that structural measures need to be taken regarding the organisation of the water system, the rural area and the water use.

This is laid out in the report entitled ‘Droogte in de zandgebieden van Zuid-, Midden- en Oost-Nederland: Het verhaal – analyse van droogte 2018 en 2019 en bevindingen’ (‘Drought in the sandy ground regions of Southern, Central and Eastern Netherlands: The story-analysis of the drought of 2018 and 2019, and findings’). The report was submitted on 14 December to the outgoing Minister of Infrastructure and Water Management, Barbara Visser.

Decisive governance and management

One of the recommendations of the team of researchers from KnowH2O, KWR, Deltares, Wageningen University, FWE and HSS refers to decisive governance and management. According to the researchers, there is a need for a clear division of responsibilities, and for a director with authority and overview who can weigh the interests of the different layers of governance in an even-handed manner. Results can be quickly achieved in practice through effective policy.

Higher groundwater levels

The groundwater levels in the sandy areas must be structurally higher than they are now. For this, greater retention of water and containment of drainage are of essence. At the same time, it is important where feasible to increase groundwater reserves, for example, by exploiting current and creating new subsurface storage opportunities. An additional measure in built-up areas is the ‘destoning’ of gardens and terrains. In nature areas, coniferous forests can be converted into heaths, so that less water evaporates and more remains for groundwater recharge.

Water conservation

Confronting drought problems also requires that citizens, industry and agriculture use less water. Groundwater abstraction needs to be limited, or be associated with groundwater recharge. Abstraction can also be more varied spatially and temporally, so that, during drought periods, no water is abstracted in drought sensitive areas.

Addressing land use

The researchers also look at the reorganisation of the rural area. In order to render the soil and water system future-proof, land use also needs to be addressed. We have to accept, partly as a consequence of climate change, that we cannot continue doing everything everywhere. The researchers, along with the Water Authorities and provinces, therefore advocate that water be given a central role within spatial development planning. In this context, they identify several challenges, such as developing a combined approach for nitrogen strategy, residential construction, the energy transition and the transition to a climate-proof Netherlands.