Future perspectives on peat polders

Our project ‘Making the Polder Futureproof’ maps out sustainable supported solutions for making the peat polder futureproof. To this end, the first phase of the project explores definitions of the issues, visions of the future and the motives of various stakeholders in relation to the peat polder. These visions give rise to options for supported solutions that will be discussed with stakeholders during a joint ‘polder consultation process’. During the second phase of the project, these potential solutions will be worked out in more specific detail.

Subsidence in peat polders

Peat polders are under increasing hydraulic pressure. For centuries now, drainage has been used to keep peat polders dry, habitable and workable. This (under)drainage beds down the peat but leads to subsidence, with all the consequences of this. The pressure on dikes is increasing, with flooding occurring more frequently. Saltwater intrusion is increasing too, reducing the quality of the water. In addition, when peat breaks down, a lot of biodiversity and historical knowledge is lost. Up to now, it is always water-level management that has been used to strike the best possible balance between the various interests (agricultural, ecological, residential and recreational) in the peat polder but in the future, the pressure on polders will increase even more due to increased subsidence, climate change and a lack of room. Against this background, we have been mandated by the Amstel, Gooi en Vecht regional public water authority and the Waternet water company to look closely at supported solutions for a futureproof peat polder system that meets the needs of the different stakeholders.

Participatory exploration

During the first phase of the project (2018), a process of participatory exploration was carried out. The exploratory phase involved interviews with the parties involved to gather together definitions of the issues, visions of the future and the motives of various stakeholders. We were looking to define the scope of viable solutions for which there is broad support from stakeholders. These possible solutions were then discussed with the stakeholders in a ‘polder consultation process’.

Governance pilots

During the second phase of the project (2020), these potential solutions will be worked out in three different cases. In each of these cases one of the following governance models will be tested: (1) central control, in which governmental parties direct development through spatial planning; (2) market control, in which market instruments are applied to direct the development of building plans by market parties; and (3) regional autonomy, in which stakeholders and other parties in an area experiment with new forms of regional autonomy. Through these pilots, each of the governance arrangements will be tested on their capability to nourish the development of thorough, supported and effective measures for local issues.

The RIO method

The guideline for the project is a methodology for the interactive designing of innovative solutions. There are three integral components of this RIO method, namely:

We take a reflexive and reflective approach (‘R’). This means that plans, results etc. are continuously reflected on. This allows us to think ‘outside the box’ i.e. outside existing conceptual frameworks and to seriously consider unusual solutions, with fundamental modifications not being rejected out of hand either.
We work interactively (‘I’), together with the stakeholders to formulate the challenges and devise the solutions that take into consideration the different points of view. Feasibility and acceptability are evaluated together.
Designing the optimum (‘O’) solutions is something that is done iteratively, with potential solutions being worked out a little more specifically each time that may then be modified to a greater or lesser degree.