The cabinet’s plans to allow more variation in the water table, as part of measures to ensure sufficient drinking water and stop the ground from sinking, will lead to changes in the Dutch landscape, experts say.
Dry summers, population growth and economic developments are hitting the supply of fresh water, while rising sea levels are increasing the salinization of ground water, ministers say.
This means people will have to reduce the amount of fresh water they use, infrastructure minister Mark Harbers said on Friday, at the presentation of the government’s plans. The cabinet aims to cut consumption by 20%, to the equivalent of 100 litres per person per day.
‘For centuries we have made our country what it is with our own hands, by building dikes and digging ditches,’ Harbers said.‘But we are now reaching the limits, due to intensive use and climate change. By taking our water into account, we can continue to live and work in the Netherlands and that is why we are now making these choices.’
Water boards have warned for some time that supplies are under threat because of the lack of fresh water sources.
Now the cabinet has decided that drinking water is to become more expensive but there will be ‘guarantees to keep it affordable’ and five-minute showers will become the norm.
At the same time, more fresh water sources need to be found and water levels in the Ijsselmeer and Markermeer, where rain water is stored, will vary more strongly than they do at present. And that, Harbers said, means no more artificial islands or land reclamation projects.
The cabinet is also introducing a ban on construction in five to 10% of the lowest lying parts of the Netherlands, which ministers want to reserve for water storage when necessary. Building in river flood plains will also end.
But that, the NRC pointed out at the weekend, will mean plans for some new housing developments will have to be scrapped, and that will again threaten plans to increase the housing stock by 900,000 by 2030.
Increasing the water level in low-lying peat bogs, to stop the emission of greenhouse gases as the peat dries out, will also impact on farming. Large parts of the north and west of the country have been drained to make them suitable for agriculture and the land continues to shrink.
This in turn is causing problems for building foundations and hundreds of thousands of homes are at risk because of the damage caused to the wooden poles many houses are built on, as well as the infrastructure, drains and public spaces.
The government also plans to raise the water table in the east of the country where the sandy soil is also drying out and losing its capacity to store excess water.
Farmers have reacted angrily to the plans, describing the decision to increase the water table as ‘unacceptable’, saying it will hit all ground types and farming sectors.
As yet, the government has no plans to build new dykes along the coast or around rivers, but is reserving more land should that become necessary in the future. Some 25% of the Netherlands is below sea level.
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