One might think: what is a Dutch city like Dordrecht doing on a blog about water scarcity? The city sits on an island in the Rhine Delta and is literally surrounded by water!
Dordrecht’s long history is inevitably connected with water, which has given it prosperity and sorrow. Now, the next stage in its history will be marked by a lurking crisis: water scarcity in its abundance. This blogpost will provide a short overview of the recent developments surrounding the drinking water problems in the Netherlands with a particular interest in Dordrecht’s paradoxical situation.
In 2021, the Dutch Waterschappen (Water Boards) and drinking water companies (DWC) called for a renewed view on water: water policies were reaching their limits and water quality and quantity already were under pressure. The Waterschappen appealed to the newly forming government to create a climate-robust water-system plan. The Netherlands is renowned for its water drainage strategy but must change this into a water retaining strategy because of reoccurring droughts. Up until then, the government had not paid attention to this developing crisis, since its priorities were elsewhere.
The year after, multiple concerning reports were published. One report, published by Deltares, warned the water sector about the degrading quality of the Meuse and the decreasing water availability. Deltares found that “in all researched climate scenarios […] longer periods of low discharge” will eventually occur, endangering the drinking water supply. In these periods of low discharge, the river is also extra vulnerable to heavy pollution, therefore raising risks for 7 million people — including the inhabitants of Dordrecht. According to the drinking water company Evides, outdated pollution permits have to be updated and the enforcement has to become more strict. The low discharge does not only affect drinking water, it also affects local agriculture, shipping, and industry. It, furthermore, causes salination of the soil and the rivers, according to Geert Slijkhuis (via personal interview) of Waterschap Hollandse Delta. The Waterschap has to keep the groundwater level high to avoid subsidence in the city. Preferably, they use fresh water since agrarians also use the land. However, it occurs more and more that they have to use salt and polluted water, thereby affecting the soil quality.
Another report, published by Vewin (Vereniging van Waterbedrijven) and later backed up by the RIVM (Rijksinstituut voor Volksgezondheid en Milieu), proved that if changes were not made quickly in the DWC drinking water shortage would occur before 2030. This has to do with several things: degrading water quality, decreased water supply, and steady increases in population, economic growth, and urban areas. Both also emphasised the dangers of multiple bottlenecks in the purification process and storage. To solve these problems the DWCs need to find alternative water sources, regulations and permits have to be expanded, and investments need to be secured for new production, purification and distribution possibilities.
Bottom Line: Scarcity does not only occur when there is an absence of a particular commodity, it also occurs when the commodity, in this case water, is made or becomes more unsuitable for its purposes. In the case of Dordrecht, water is abundant, but a scarcity of usable water is starting to develop, due to a decrease in the quantity and quality of the Meuse’s water, bottlenecks in the purification process, and an increase in, among others, population. If future governance is not changed, this process will only be accelerated.
* Please help my Water Scarcity students by commenting on unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data sources, or maybe just saying something nice 🙂