As of today, the national Water Shortages Management Team (MTW) determines how scarce water in the Netherlands is distributed. Due to the ongoing drought, there is now an “actual water shortage”, says Minister Harbers of Infrastructure and Water Management. At the moment, no additional measures are needed to prevent problems, but if the drought persists, they will soon. Exactly what these measures entail is still unclear.
The situation is now so serious that decisions have to be taken that go across regions, water boards and stakeholders. Its the MTWs job to coordinate that. Rijkswaterstaat, the water boards, drinking water companies, provinces and the relevant ministries are represented in the team. In this way, decisions can be made faster about measures and more customized, says Harbers.
On 13 July, it was scaled up to level 1 (imminent water shortage) and now to level 2 (actual water shortage). The drought is caused by the high evaporation in the Netherlands and the low supply of water from abroad via the rivers.
Several water boards have already taken measures in recent weeks. For example, in some areas, there is a spray ban on agriculture and industry and locks may be used less frequently by shipping. The water level in the IJsselmeer is also kept as high as possible and in some places pumps and pumping stations have been used to distribute the water better.
Here in Terwolde, an emergency pump is being installed to get water from the IJssel into the polder:
Now that there is actually a water shortage, the so-called displacement series is being put into effect. It states that measures will first be taken that are at the expense of agriculture, industry and recreation. They have the lowest priority. The highest priority is the safety of the dikes, the prevention of irreversible damage to nature and the maintenance of utilities such as power plants and drinking water.
Drought certainly until the end
The weather forecast is not favorable. Marco Nolet of the KNMI explained at a press conference. In the next two weeks, hardly any precipitation is expected: 40 to 50 millimeters in the most favorable case. “But that is far too little, because the evaporation is much greater.”
Across the country, there is an average rainfall deficit of 220 millimeters. Normally, there is a shortage of about 100 millimeters in the summer. It was only in the second half of August that it could rain heavily again, but that is not enough to solve the problem either. Nolet: “The drought will certainly continue to play a major role until the end of August.”
This is what you can see in the nature of the shortage of water:
According to Bart Vonk, the chairman of the National Coordination Committee on Water Distribution (LCW), a lot has happened recently to retain the water longer. As a result, our starting position is better than in 2018, when there was an even larger rainfall deficit. A big problem is that the Rhine supplies much less fresh water, more than 50 percent less than usual.
Salt water bubble screen
This can lead to salinization of the soil, especially in the west of the country, because salt seawater flows inland. “That is why we take into account that at Diemen we are going to turn on a bubble screen against the salinisation of the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal,” said Vonk. A bubble screen is a large tube with holes that lies at the bottom of the channel. Air is blown through the holes, causing air bubbles. They should stop the salt water.
Another measure that is being considered is to limit the intake of water from the IJsselmeer. This is the most important freshwater buffer and is very important for water management in the east and north of the country.
Being economical is not an obligation
Michèle Blom of Rijkswaterstaat is the chairman of the Water Shortages Management Team, which from now on meets regularly. She reiterated the call for citizens to be economical with water, but she cannot oblige it. “Im making this call now, and I honestly see no reason for people to ignore it.”
It is the fifth time this century that there is a water shortage in the Netherlands. Previously, this happened in 2003, 2006, 2011 and 2018, and even reached level 3 in 2003, where there is an imminent national crisis due to the drought. Even in the warm summer of 1976, it was so dry that the authorities scaled up to level 3.