Actual water shortage now, possibly new measures for water distribution soon

Due to the ongoing drought, there is a real shortage of water nationwide. As a result, new national and supra-regional measures may be needed in the coming weeks to distribute water. This task will now be handed over to the Water Shortage Management Team. This is what Minister Mark Harbers for infrastructure and water management writes in a letter to the House of Representatives.

This move was already expected after the National Water Distribution Coordination Committee (LCW) indicated that it would review the situation today. The LCW had been scaled up to Level 1 on July 13 due to increasing risk of supra-regional water shortages. Further scaling up now takes place in accordance with the National Water Distribution and Drought scenario.

Minister Mark Harbers gives this explanation in his letter to Parliament: “Due to the ongoing drought and because the national demand for water exceeds the supply, there is a water shortage. Due to this shortage, it was decided today to coordinate the distribution of water from Water Shortage Management Team (MTW) ​​in the coming weeks and scale it up from level 1 (imminent water shortage) to level 2 (actual water shortage).” The last two upgrades to level 2 were in the summer of 2018 and in 2011.

By making MTW responsible for water distribution, decision making is now at a higher level. “This means that the water boards, the provinces, the ministries of infrastructure and water management, economy and climate as well as agriculture, nature and food quality and the umbrella organization for the drinking water companies VEWIN jointly discuss the distribution of water nationally and regionally. and this carefully. coordinate with each other,” said the minister.

Faster decisions possible
The Water Shortage Management Team is led by Director General Michèle Blom of Rijkswaterstaat. In a news release from the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, she says that it has been visible for several weeks that it is getting drier in the Netherlands. “This is due on the one hand to a lot of evaporation in our own country and on the other hand to a very low river supply from abroad.”

Blom points out that the water boards have already taken the necessary measures to keep the water and distribute it as well as possible. “By now taking on a heavier coordinating role from MTW, we can make faster and tailored decisions when needed on how to address water shortages.”

Displacement series in water distribution
It is not yet necessary to take new measures at national and supra-regional level for water distribution. But it may become necessary in the coming weeks. MTW then applies the displacement sequence (see figure).

Displacement Series I Source: National Water Allocation and Drought Scenario

The minister said: “The displacement series makes it clear in advance which functions take precedence if there is insufficient water for all functions. Within this framework, the Rijkswaterstaat, provinces and water boards create regional and local tailor-made agreements that do justice to the different characteristics per region, such as the possibilities of supplying water, soil conditions, nature and economic interests. The goal is to limit social and/or economic damage as much as possible.”

The effects of the drought are currently particularly noticeable for shipping, the agricultural sector and nature. These public interests all belong to category 4 of the displacement series (apart from a number of exposed natural areas, which fall under category 1). According to Harbers, there are currently no major supra-regional problems for the more serious categories 1 to 3. This applies, among other things, to the drinking water supply (category 2).

It is becoming increasingly challenging to limit negative effects
Minister Harbers refers to LCW’s drought monitor for a comprehensive analysis of the current drought situation. Yesterday afternoon’s update shows that the drought continues and low river discharges are causing an extraordinary situation.

The committee draws this picture in the drought monitor: “In most of the Netherlands, the current situation with regard to water supply and water quality is still manageable. However, it becomes more challenging every week to limit the negative effects on nature, agriculture and shipping. The effects of the drought are becoming noticeable in more and more places.”

LCW continues: “In the western Netherlands, salinization is increasing because, due to the low river discharge, less water is available to reduce the sea water. Due to the drought and decreasing water supply, it is becoming more and more difficult in several areas to keep the water level at that desired level.”

Rhine discharge to unusually low level
The water supply is under pressure, among other things, due to the Rhine’s low discharge. The discharge at Lobith is currently around 850 cubic meters per second (m3/s). “The discharge is lower than the LCW criterion of 1100 m3/s for August and is significantly lower than the long-term average of 1835 m3/s for the beginning of August,” according to the drought monitor.

LCW speaks of a downward trend. “There will be some rainfall in the Rhine catchment over the next 2 weeks, so a further drop in discharge is expected. In the second week of August, the discharge at Lobith is expected to fall below the level of 800 m3/s, after which it will decrease further at an average rate of approximately 4 m3/s per day.”

A level close to 750 m3/s is possible in mid-August. “Such low discharges at this time of year are unusual; a discharge below 800 m3/s has only happened twice before in the summer period (1949 and 1976). These types of drains occur more often in the fall.”

The daily average discharge of the Meuse is currently around 35 m3/s. This discharge is also significantly lower than normal for the season (65 m3/s), but is still above the LCW criterion of a three-day average of 25 m3/s. Due to a decrease of approx. 5 m3/s per week, LCW expects that an average discharge below the criterion will be possible in mid-August.

Disruption of shipping due to low water level
The water level in the Rhine, Meuse and IJssel is currently lower than normal for the time of year. For example, the water level in the Rhine at Lobith is now slightly less than seven meters compared to the NAP. This creates challenges for, among other things, agricultural and nature managers.

Shipping is also experiencing inconvenience, Rijkswaterstaat reports in a news release. Rivers are shallower and their channels narrower. Inland ships can therefore transport less cargo. This is most important in the Waal and the Rhine, which have a free flow to the sea. In the Meuse, Lower Rhine and IJssel, the Rijkswaterstaat can still influence the water level with spillways, locks and pumping stations.

Economical locking is another measure to better retain water, which e.g. takes place at the Eefde lock in the Twente canal. As a result, there are longer waiting times and blockages at locks. For example, a ship sometimes has to wait longer for other ships to join.

Groundwater level low to very low
Despite the occasional rain, it is generally warm and dry in the Netherlands, and according to the forecast, this will remain the case throughout August. The average rainfall deficit is currently 224 millimeters (situation on Wednesday morning, August 3) and, according to the KNMI, may rise to 261 millimeters in fifteen days. That is well above the level of the 5 percent driest years, although the record year of 1976 is still out of reach.

The ongoing drought has adverse effects on, among other things, the groundwater level. LCW reports in the drought monitor that these populations show a sharp downward trend as a result of the last dry weeks in July. “At the moment, the groundwater level is low to very low for the time of year, as can be seen in the Groundwater Index. Very low groundwater levels are observed locally in the center of the Netherlands and the south of the Netherlands, such as near Mierlo in North Brabant.”

LCW also states that high water temperatures cause local problems for water quality. “There are reports of blue-green algae and fish kills. The displacement series is now used in different regions.”

Drinking water consumption is currently normal for the time of year. The drinking water companies encourage customers to use drinking water consciously and economically.

Purified waste water used by Scheldestrømme
In connection with the drought, the water boards and Rijkswaterstaat have taken extra measures in recent months to hold water, save water and increase supply where possible. These include extraction bans, dyke inspections and negative bathing recommendations. The water boards in the south and east have imposed large-scale extraction bans from surface water.

Temporary pumps have been installed in Gelderland and in the areas by the Twente canals so that higher areas can be supplied with water. Another special measure is the activation of the Climate Resistant Water Supply Facility (KWA) on 18 July. Rijkswaterstaat and four water boards have done this to prevent salinization in the western part of the Netherlands.

Due to the same problem, the Amstel, Gooi and Vecht Water Board installed a temporary dam yesterday (August 2). With this large dam, access to the Muidertrekvaart from the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal has been closed. This prevents salt water coming from the sea from penetrating further. In this way, the water board maintains good water quality in vulnerable natural areas such as Naardermeer and Spiegelplas.

Zeeland is currently the driest province; on the coast it is even drier than in the record year of 1976. The Scheldestromen Water Council announced yesterday that purified waste water will be used as an emergency measure. The water board temporarily transfers the treated waste water from the treatment plants Walcheren (in Ritthem) and Willem Annapolder (in Kapelle) to the area behind. The purpose is to limit the settlement of the peat layer in the ground and prevent lasting damage as a result of settlement.


It was dry in 2018, 2019 and 2020 and again now. When dry years follow each other, the effects are greater than when they are isolated. This is evident from research carried out by KNMI in collaboration with Wageningen University & Research and Utrecht University.

From a meteorological point of view, there is no increased chance of a recurrence of drought, write researchers Karin van der Wiel (KNMI) and Niko Wanders (Utrecht University) in a KNMI climate report. “We were unable to find any indication in the study of increased chances of a meteorological drought in year two after a first drought summer has occurred. So the 2019 drought after the 2018 drought was just bad luck.”

But strong climate change increases the risk of multi-year droughts, according to them. Climate change may lead to a significant decrease in summer precipitation and an increase in evaporation. “It increases the chance of a drought occurring in our region. As this base probability increases, so does the probability of two consecutive dry summers. As a result, the risk of multi-year hydrological drought also increases. From that perspective, there is therefore a meteorological process that leads to multi-year droughts, and we may no longer be able to talk about accidents in the future,’ according to Van der Wiel and Wanders.

Leave a Comment