In general, sufficient fresh water is available in the Netherlands. However, the Netherlands may still experience dry periods when it rains a lot less than normal, or when it is extremely hot and more water therefore evaporates.

Consequences of drought

Drought means that less water is available for trees and plants. This leads to damage to agriculture and nature. Drought also causes other problems. Water levels in rivers and canals are lower, making boat travel more difficult. Less cooling water is available for industry. Peat dikes can dry out, increasing the chance of a breach. There is a greater risk of wildfires. Drought also leads to salinisation, meaning that surface water and groundwater become more salty.

What is the government doing about this?

The government is taking measures to combat drought. In dry periods the water authorities retain as much fresh water as possible using barrages. They also arrange additional water supplies, for example from the rivers and the IJsselmeer lake. The government can also prohibit farmers and private individuals from using sprinkler systems. The Delta programme ensures that measures are taken to minimise problems in the event of drought in the future.

Consequences of drought

Drought causes a drop in water levels in rivers, canals, ditches, lakes and ponds. Sometimes fens and pools dry out as well. Boat travel becomes more difficult. Water plants, fish and amphibians die. Salt water enters rivers from the sea.

Drought also causes a drop in groundwater levels. The roots of trees and plants are unable to reach water, leading to damage for agriculture and nature. The water also becomes saltier because salt from the soil dissolves in the water. A(n) (excessively) low groundwater level leads, in some places, to serious foundation problems, as a result of which buildings may subside. This is because, when exposed, wooden foundation piles come into contact with oxygen in the air and they start to go mouldy and rot (pile rot).

Drought also leads to subsidence in peat areas because peat that comes into contact with the air settles and oxidises. If the soil subsides, the water level has to be kept lower. This means that the water boards have to carry out extra drainage work which, in turn, leads to even more subsidence. When peat dikes dry out, there is a greater risk of the dike being breached.

During a period of drought the chance of a wildfire increases. The majority of wildfires are caused by people being careless (a discarded cigarette, fire baskets, barbecues, etc.) or by malicious actions (arson). Sometimes nature will be to blame, for example in the form of a lightning strike. Fighting wildfires is difficult because the water required to put the fire out often has to be brought in from elsewhere and any wind will fan the flames.

What is the government doing about this?

In order to mitigate the consequences of periods of drought, the government is taking measures to retain water, to ensure that water can be supplied and to reduce the amount of water used.

Retaining water

In built-up areas the government is creating more greenery and strips that allow water through alongside roads. This allows rainwater to drain into the ground instead of into the sewer system and, in this way, a stock can be built up in the soil ready for use in dry periods. The water boards are building barrages in streams and ditches to ensure that the water does not flow away. In very dry periods fishways are sometimes closed in order to prevent the little water that is still present from flowing away.

Distributing and supplying water

In dry periods the water authorities can supply fresh water from rivers and from the IJsselmeer lake. The Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, the water boards and the provincial governments are responsible for jointly determining where the limited amount of available water goes. In response to this a so-called 'water distribution priority list' has been drawn up. This details which uses have the highest priority in the event of water shortages.

Less water

The government can prohibit farmers and private individuals from using sprinkler systems. Water authorities can themselves save water, for example by operating sluices less frequently.

Freshwater Delta programme

The government expects drought-related problems to occur more frequently in the future because the demand for fresh water is increasing and the climate is changing. For that reason the government has drawn up a Freshwater Strategy Delta Decision as part of the Delta programme. The Delta decision creates more clarity about the availability of water. Measures are also being taken to ensure a more reliable water supply and reduce the amount of water used.

Measures to combat drought

Use less water. If you want to water your garden, you can use the water you have collected in a water butt.

Remove tiles from your garden. Gardens with less paving absorb more rainwater. This enables water storage to be built up in the ground ready for dry periods. More tips can be found under 'Read more about drought' on the bottom of this page.