In the Netherlands, we had a problem that no one saw coming, such as drought, but due to climate change, we have to face it. Our rainy country is transforming into a land that must consider heat stress. In parts of Twente and Salland, the Vechtstromen water authority has even imposed a groundwater extraction ban for some of these areas. But how can a wet country like the Netherlands face such an issue, and should other regions take similar measures?
Author: Isabelle Horneman
Water is so abundant in the Netherlands that it is difficult for us to imagine a water shortage. However, it has become an increasingly significant problem in recent years. This is due to climate change, which leads to rising temperatures and increased evaporation of water. When more water evaporates than rainfall, we experience drought. Additionally, global warming in the Netherlands and surrounding areas also leads to a slight increase in precipitation. However, the catch is that climate change also causes much stronger variations. Rain showers become heavier, resulting in more instances of waterlogging. On the other hand, heatwaves occur more frequently, last longer, and become even hotter. Dry periods can also be prolonged and cause more disruptions.
Consequences of Drought
Drought has consequences for agriculture, nature, shipping, homes, and our drinking water. The Dutch water management system is primarily designed to drain large quantities of water, preventing fields from flooding, but due to drought, we now need to focus on better water retention. Farmers cannot continuously irrigate their fields with water from ditches, rivers, and canals, as it would deplete the water levels too much. This, in turn, creates problems for shipping, with ships being unable to navigate rivers like the Maas. These rivers also supply a significant amount of drinking water, so there can be implications for the water coming out of your tap. As a result of drought, the ground in the Netherlands is subsiding at a faster rate. Land subsidence is a well-known and problematic process in the Netherlands, where the ground level sinks in relation to a fixed reference point. This is caused by increased water extraction and the drying and compression of clay and peat soils during warm periods. Consequently, we are seeing more instances of shifting dikes and sinking houses and roads. Trees, plants, and animals also suffer greatly from drought as they struggle to access water and food. In summary, water is a vital resource in our country, so our focus should be on water retention.
Drought in the Netherlands
Precipitation is not evenly distributed throughout the Netherlands, although the differences are not significant. The driest areas are along the eastern border, in the eastern parts of Brabant, and especially in the central region of Limburg. Here, the average annual rainfall is around 750 mm, while the wettest regions receive approximately 950 mm of rainfall. As long as water flows into the Netherlands through rivers like the Rhine, the coastal provinces will never become truly dry. In the northwestern half of the country, the groundwater level is much higher than in the east and south. Large parts of provinces like South and North Holland would be submerged if we were to stop pumping water away. However, prolonged drought can cause problems in these areas, such as increased salinity of the groundwater. In the eastern and southern parts of the Netherlands, the situation is different. Especially in the higher sandy areas of provinces such as Brabant, Limburg, Gelderland, and Overijssel, the groundwater is often more than a meter deep and, in some places, even more than two meters deep. After a dry year, the groundwater level can be half a meter lower than usual, and this cannot be easily restored with a few wet days.
In Twente and Salland, during the dry summers from 2018, 2019, and 2020, it became evident that irreversible damage was being done to nature due to a lack of rainfall. With the risk of rainfall deficits exceeding 250 millimeters in that area, a groundwater extraction ban is now in effect in a portion of the management area south of the Overijsselse Vecht. This ban applies to the extraction of groundwater for irrigation and watering in vulnerable, groundwater-dependent nature reserves and within a 200-meter radius around these areas. The ban is in place because there is no significant rainfall expected in the foreseeable future. It is also crucial for maintaining water quality in the region. Insufficient rainfall and heat can lead to deteriorating water quality, which increases the risk of fish mortality due to oxygen depletion, the growth of blue-green algae, and botulism.
Fortunately, more and more people realize that action must be taken against rising temperatures and changing weather conditions. But what can we do to mitigate these climate changes? Well, the answer is simpler than you might expect: more urban greenery! Green spaces in cities can play a crucial role in climate adaptation. They have a cooling effect, reduce waterlogging, and enhance moisture retention. However, greenery also requires water. During times of drought and water scarcity, green spaces can contribute to the problem. This can be prevented by selecting suitable locations for greenery and properly maintaining and caring for it. This is where ConnectedGreen comes in handy. Maintaining the appropriate soil moisture level is essential for the health of trees and plants. By monitoring it with ConnectedGreen’s sensors, you can work more efficiently, save water, and better preserve the well-being of trees and plants.