Can’t escape the WaterScape: transforming water and governance systems for dealing with climate impacts in the Dutch Delta

With projected increase in floods and drought it is apparent that the Dutch water system needs to change. In WaterScape we explore large-scale spatial transitions in the physical and governance water system. In this project we explore opportunities, challenges and conflicting interests between different land-use and stakeholder groups. With the full consortium we will study three living labs in Brabant, Utrecht’s Heuvelrug and Groningen, with the potential to expand our findings to regional and national scale to create a more climate-robust water landscape for the future.

Interdisciplinary approach

The programme is clearly described on the Dutch Research Council’s (NWO) Knowledge and Innovation Covenant website (NWO-KIC): ‘Climate change makes it necessary to anticipate changing freshwater availability in the Dutch water system. In the short term, water management challenges may still be met by optimising the current water system. However, as the limits within the current design of the system are reached, solutions need to be found for a transformation to a water system that is also robust and resilient for the coming decades.

‘Conflicting interests between different stakeholders play an important role in this transformation. Shaping this transformation therefore requires an interdisciplinary approach. This is because knowledge and innovative solutions for designing a resilient, robust water system and landscape are implemented more effectively if sufficient attention is also paid to policy, legal, economic, ethical and/or social aspects of the issue, examining and weighing these up from the outset and including stakeholders and their interests in the process.’

Water system = physical system + water governance system

WaterScape supports the necessary water transition through the development of innovative storylines for water landscapes. Waterscapes are climate-robust and adaptive water systems at landscape scale. WaterScape aims to make the route to such landscapes possible by treating governance and physical design as equally important components of the required water transition. As part of the storylines, WaterScape will develop transformation pathways for both the physical and the governance water system, which are based on the quantification of climate impacts, the definition of desirable future scenarios, the rethinking of existing system functions, the organisation of difficult dialogues with stakeholders, and the exploration of required changes within the governance context. Ultimately, WaterScape aims to produce recommendations on how the developed transformation pathways can be embedded in governance arrangements, which make possible the coordination and adaptation of policy investments in the water system.


By involving important stakeholders in the design, production and dissemination of knowledge, WaterScape focuses not only on the design for the ideal situation from a physical perspective, but also on the design for concrete and possible changes of physical measures, water management principles and governance over the short and long term.

WaterScape’s objective is to answer the following research questions:

  • WP1: Where will climate extremes have serious consequences for water availability and result in increased pressure on agriculture, nature, industry and the drinking water provision in the current water system?
  • WP2: What is the role of soil-water-plant-atmosphere interactions in the shallow groundwater and root zone, with regard to the local water availability and land-use practices?
  • WP3: What is the role of land-use and interactions between surface water and groundwater for the regional groundwater systems and the water availability for actors?
  • WP4: What are the transformation pathways toward integrated, fair and adaptive governance arrangements for Dutch water landscapes?
  • WP5: How can the law contribute to the creation of water landscapes in the Netherlands in 2050, in a fair, legitimate and effective manner?
  • WP6: How do you combine and integrate natural- and socio-scientific knowledge of the physical water system and water governance into storylines leading to desirable water landscapes with the input of difficult stakeholder dialogues?
  • WP7: How can scientists and the practical working field jointly produce knowledge to be embedded in universities, public administrations and consultancies?


Water-system thinking and modelling: insight into impact, opportunities and problem areas of measures.