Comprehensive and Sustainable Water Management in the Netherlands

by Lazaros M. K. Chalkias

The Netherlands has been harvesting the benefits of major European rivers (Rhine, Meuse), of accessibility to the sea and high precipitation at the cost of a constant struggle for safety and survival from the elements themselves. These conditions have bestowed great responsibility to the government to plan and prepare for disasters of drought and flood. Following the 1976 drought, the idea of an integrated water management tool was conceived for use in research and policy making. De Lange et al. (2014) review the outcomes of this integrated water system analysis, as accounted for in the most recent updated of the Netherlands Hydrological Instrument (NHI). According to the outcomes of the research, surface water is managed based on surpluses or shortage, its salt content, and its temperature in an attempt to maximize efficiency for agriculture and consumer uses, preservation of natural resources, and other uses.

The NHI is made up of five models for different water domains and is a result of the work started in 2005, after pooling approximately one million euros a year to formulate a complete modeling system. Regional and national water management organizations across the country reached consensus for NHI in 2013, creating a modeling plan on a national, regional and local level. A main domain of the system is surface water management using surface water and sub-surface water modeling, aiming at optimizing distribution during drought. The individual models comprising the complete Instrument cover distribution of surface water, its flow and transport, water sub-catchments, saturated ground water, and soil and atmosphere water transfers. Together, they can produce plans for water allocation based on demand (from agriculture, drainage, seepage, etc.), models for water fluxes over time, and even the total salt load in kg/ha.

Apart from the advanced and comprehensive technical features of NHI, its success in establishing stakeholder participation is key to the success of water management in the Netherlands. Knowledge and data have been openly shared between local and national government, water companies, and water management organizations to create this cutting-edge tool. Its uses may span national policy development for management and distribution, to national and international research for sustainable water management and use. The lessons learned from such modeling constitute excellent examples for reform in areas of the US, such as Southern California. The NHI demonstrates the clear benefits of a participatory process based on information and expertise sharing, leading to a useful reset of resources and regional organization based on the water available. The results could then be implemented on a national level, ensuring access and sustainable use even in extended dry seasons, as the one California is currently experiencing.

Lange, W., Prinsen, G., Hoogewoud, J., Veldhuizen, A., Verkaik, J., Essink, G., Walsum, P., Delsman, J., Hunink, J., Massop, H., Kroon, T., 2014. An operational, multi-scale, multi-model system for consensus-based, integrated water management and policy analysis: The Netherlands Hydrological Instrument. Environmental Modelling & Software 59, 98-108.


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