The Netherlands officially experiencing a national water shortage

The Netherlands officially experiencing a national water shortage
The Meuse at Obbicht, on 1 August 2022. Credit: Belga

The Netherlands, like Belgium and many other European countries, has been experiencing extended periods of warm weather in recent weeks, which has resulted in an "actual" state-wide water shortage.

On Wednesday, the Dutch government officially announced a water shortage, as the persistent drought has seen the national demand for water exceed the amount of water the country received through rivers and rainfall, a situation that is expected to continue until the end of August. However, there will still be sufficient drinking water.

"For several weeks we have been seeing that it is getting drier in the Netherlands. This is partly due to a lot of evaporation in our own country and partly due to a very low river supply from abroad," Michèle Blom, chair of the Management Team for Water Shortages (MTW), said.

"Water boards have therefore already taken measures to retain the water and distribute it as effectively as possible," he added, referring to the bans placed on spraying crops with surface water and lock restrictions for ships to keep water levels high, meaning some waterways will be obstructed.

Overall, the shortage mainly affects agriculture and shipping, however, nature is also affected, as rivers, ditches and lakes will supply less fresh water.

A bridge over dried out river. Credit: Belga

This is not the first time there has been an "actual" water shortage in the country: it is already the fifth time since the start of the 21st century. The critical water situation level was also announced in 2003 (when there was even an impending national crisis due to the drought), 2006, 2011 and 2018.

Distributing water across the country

The Dutch government explained that, in light of the current situation, new measures to distribute the water could follow in the coming weeks, of which the management will be in the hands of the MTW, consisting of the Directorate-General for Public Works and Water Management (Rijkswaterstaat), as well as drinking water companies, provinces and competent ministries.

While the measures to keep water distribution as optimal as possible are not yet necessary, the government stressed they may be in the coming weeks if the problem continues, and "the current situation calls for decisions that transcend regions, water system functions and stakeholders."

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Now, the system that decided where water is most needed will be activated, stipulating that the first priority is to secure the dikes and prevent irreversible damage to nature. "After that, we ensure that our drinking water and energy supplies continue to function."

'Water remains precious'

While drinking water continues to be available, the government stressed the need to use tap water consciously, as was advised in Belgium recently too. Flanders' Environment Agency (VMM) will give an update on the situation on Friday.

Based on current developments, it is conceivable that the drought will affect more social interests. I find this extremely unpleasant for those affected. Together with all water partners, we are trying to keep the water shortage manageable, but everyone can do their bit," Mark Harbers, Minister for Infrastructure and Water Management, said.

"I, therefore, ask all Dutch people to think carefully about whether they should wash their car or fill their inflatable swimming pool. The Netherlands is a water country, but even here, our water is precious."

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