The Dutch water sector could flourish internationally even more if it practices more reciprocity, that is, both contributing to sustainable solutions for vulnerable regions and benefiting from learning from abroad. This is certainly the case when it comes to addressing the increasing drought problems that the Netherlands is facing. This is the message from Katja Portegies, Director of Safety and Water at Rijkswaterstaat (part of the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management) and board member of the Netherlands Water Partnership (NWP) since the end of 2019.
‘Rijkswaterstaat is responsible for the design, construction, management and maintenance of the main infrastructure facilities in the Netherlands. I am mainly involved in specialised policy advice to make Rijkswaterstaat future-proof by incorporating sustainability, climate adaptation and circularity in our programmes. We are increasingly succeeding in doing this. Our main focus is the Netherlands, but we also work internationally. One country we work in is Bangladesh, where our expertise is welcome in the context of the Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100, in which a Dutch consortium is involved. A few areas of the Delta Plan are now being worked out in greater detail and we will support the path to actual implementation.
We not only share knowledge, but we also gain valuable experience. One area where we gain experience is on the need for an integrated approach. We consistently advocate this, but it can be a challenge in the Netherlands. Here, not all is lost if a problem is not tackled in a fully integrated way, but in the context of Bangladesh, it is proving to be an absolute necessity. There are many problems and they are all interlinked, so the only way they can be solved sustainably is through an integrated approach.
As a representative of the Dutch Government abroad, it is inspiring to see how public and private parties, scientific institutions and NGOs can find each other and progress together. We should not just be concerned about winning tenders or following our trading spirit alone. Sustainable and robust solutions go hand in hand with long term cooperation. We can do better in this respect, do even better, and especially do it more collaboratively.
Of course, one of the important values of NWP is its network, which I can use and to which I want to contribute myself. I want to strengthen reciprocity as a way to strengthen the sector. From an international perspective, Rijkswaterstaat is very valuable for the Dutch water sector as a launch pad where innovative solutions can be applied for the first time. We carry out many projects and can showcase a lot of methods and technologies in the Netherlands’ shop window to the world. We are still proud that the Delta Works is still one of the Seven Modern Wonders of the World, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.
But there are also other wonderful and more recent examples. Just one very special ongoing project is the Marker Wadden, a unique nature reserve under development. Here, Natuurmonumenten (Dutch Society for Nature Conservation) works with Rijkswaterstaat to restore nature in a large archipelago of 10,000 hectares. It is truly an innovative project and a good example of delta technology and nature-based solutions. And nature is blossoming extremely quickly in the Marker Wadden (in Dutch). A young gull-billed tern was born a few weeks ago here. This is great news because it was the first time since 1958 that this species was born in the Netherlands. We are also gaining very valuable knowledge while working on this project and several students are involved in research for their PhDs.
Increasing drought challenge
One theme that is becoming more and more important in the Netherlands is the drought that we have increasingly faced in recent years. We can learn a lot from countries and areas where it has been going on for much longer, such as California, Australia and Egypt. For us it is a relatively new phenomenon, given that historically, this country stands out mainly for its fight against too much water. In 1798, Rijkswaterstaat started work in an almost military operation on preventing frequent disastrous floods to ensure that everyone stays dry. We have the Fresh Water Delta Programme (in Dutch) to tackle drought problems in combination with heavy rainfall. This programme includes smart water management and better matching of supply and demand. We also look at the designation of areas that can serve as a buffer. On the higher sandy soils, where there are no rivers to supply water, we have to use water more economically, including in agriculture. We already have a great deal of expertise in this area, which is also successfully used internationally and is now becoming increasingly relevant in our own country. It once again emphasises the need to connect sectors.
In this respect, the announcement of the new Delta Knowledge Center for food, water and energy (in Dutch) in Vlissingen is of course very interesting. There we can bundle our sector-wide and cross-sector knowledge, further develop it and present it internationally. And that is of course in the interest of the entire Dutch water sector.’