Delta Programme: flood safety, freshwater and spatial adaptation

The Netherlands is located in a delta. It is a low-lying country, with many lakes, rivers and canals. This makes it prone to flooding. The Delta Programme sets out plans to protect the country from flooding, mitigate the impact of extreme weather events, and secure supplies of freshwater.

Aim of the Delta programme

In 1953 the southwest of the Netherlands was hit by disastrous floods. And in the early 1990s the rivers in Limburg burst their banks. The government wants to prevent events like these from happening again. It sets out its plans in the Delta Programme

The aim of the Delta Programme is:

  • to protect the Netherlands from flooding, now and in the future;
  • to secure sufficient supplies of freshwater;
  • to make the country climate-proof.

Protect the Netherlands from flooding

After the floods of 1953, the Dutch government introduced measures to protect the country more effectively from flooding. They included agreements about the coastline and the height of the dikes.

But now, more than 60 years later, circumstances have changed.

  • The data show that the sea level is rising and the land is subsiding.
  • There is more extreme rainfall. 
  • The Dutch population has grown, so a flood would affect more people.
  • As much as 60% of the Netherlands could end up under water, including the largest towns and cities that make up the country’s economic centre.

These factors pose new risks. It is therefore essential for the Netherlands to keep its flood protection plans up to date. These plans are set out every year in the Delta Programme.

Secure sufficient supplies of freshwater

The data show that temperatures are rising. So summers are getting hotter and drier. This will sometimes lead to freshwater shortages, mainly affecting farming, industry and nature. The Delta Programme therefore contains agreements on availability of freshwater. It sets out what help the government can provide and under what circumstances. So the sectors that use a lot of freshwater will know where they stand.

Make the country climate-proof

To mitigate the impact of flooding, heat and drought, the Delta Programme will contain a Delta Plan on Spatial Adaptation as of 2018. The government wants a clearer understanding of where the country is vulnerable to extreme weather conditions, so that it can act as effectively as possible. Spatial adaptation should automatically be a component of all civil works in our country.

Implementation of the Delta Programme

The Delta Programme is a nationwide venture that brings together central government, provincial and municipal authorities, and water authorities. Also involved are civil-society organisations, the business community and organisations with specialised water expertise. 

Delta Programme set up on the recommendation of the Delta Commission
The Delta Programme was set up in response to the recommendations of the Delta Commission under the chairmanship of former agriculture minister Cees Veerman. The Delta Commission made 12 recommendations on how the Netherlands should protect itself from flooding, which were then adopted by government.

The Commission’s main recommendation was to draft a Delta Act. This law:

  • describes the responsibilities and powers of the Delta Programme Commissioner;
  • sets out the agreements for financing the Delta Programme;
  • obliges the government to update the Delta Programme every year.

Role of the Delta Programme Commissioner

Delta Act also describes the role of the Delta Programme Commissioner. The Delta Programme Commissioner updates the Delta Programme for the government each year and is responsible for making sure it is carried out. 

Delta Fund: financing the Delta Programme

All the measures in the Delta Programme are financed from the Delta Fund. This a separate item on the central government budget. An average of €1.25 billion a year has been earmarked for the Delta Fund up to 2032. More than 55 per cent of this amount is for investment in new measures. The remaining 45 per cent is needed for overheads and to cover the costs of management and maintenance.