Dutch answers to global water challenges

Published: 15 May 2014

How can we prevent flooding and battle droughts? Which wastewater induced health risks do we face? On 14 May, water experts from around the globe gathered at the UNESCO-IHE headquarters in the Netherlands to present and debate smart solutions for a wide range of water management issues. This debate was organised by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (Rijksdienst voor Ondernemend Nederland). As one of the key note speakers, Deltares’ Director of Science Jaap Kwadijk adressed the worldwide appeal and potential of Dutch delta technology.

Sea level rise, land subsidence and extremes in precipitation increase flooding JAAP KWADIJKand landslide risks in already vulnerable coastal and delta areas. With half of the world population now living in theseareas, their sustainable management and development is high on the international agenda. Growing awareness of these issues has in recent years increased interest in the Dutch water sector and its approach to water management and spatial planning. ‘Many urban areas are underprotected against floods’, said Kwadijk at the Innovations for Global Water Challenges congress, ‘and the Dutch seem to manage their delta quite reasonably. People elsewhere want to know how we cope with immediate problems and anticipate those expected in future.’

Showcase for innovation

Kwadijk explained how the country’s particular geophysical qualities – low-lying, soft subsurface, groundwater at surface water level – have for centuries forced the Dutch to work closely together and invent new ways of managing risks as well as exploiting the benefits that accompany living in a delta area. ‘Continual research and experimenting has made the Netherlands into one big showcase for both technological and administrative innovation.’ He went on to illustrate his point by providing several recent examples, from new dike reinforcement and monitoring methods to coastline rehabilitation with permeable structures and large-scale coastal protection through sand supplementation ( the Sand Motor). The latter being one of the prominent results of the working or building with nature philosophy as developed and practised by the Dutch water sector.

‘Extremely useful tool’

‘ The 3Di Water Management programme is another fine example of how scientists, engineers and users combine efforts to make a new and extremely useful tool’, Kwadijk explained. The modelling suite shows how current information technologies can be integrated and used to generate incredibly fast flow calculations as well as realistically visualise water flow, storage capacity and flood risks in an instant. ‘The software has a huge communicative potential and helps stakeholders to find adequate answers to water management challenges. Immediately, if the matter is urgent.’

Further information and examples can be found www.dutchwatersector.com and in the comprehensive booklet Water innovations in the Netherlands