#Rob Meeuwsen Project Nijmegen
Room for the River
Making room for safety The national Room for the River programme is designed to ensure protection from flooding for the four million residents of the area around the River Rhine and its branches. Capacity will be increased at over 30 locations along the Rhine, IJssel, Lek, Waal, Merwede and Bergse Meuse to safely boost water discharge levels into the sea. This approach marks a new focus in flood protection – shifting from raising dykes to river widening.
Necessity Greater danger of flooding Failure to act would mean suboptimal flood protection for this country. Room for the River provides dual protection – to local residents and the economic value of the river region. • Over the past few centuries the Dutch rivers have been being increasingly squeezed between higher and higher dykes – with subsidence in ground levels behind them. This bathtub effect and population growth and burgeoning economic activity combine to aggravate the impact of any flooding. • In recent centuries more than 50,000 hectares of river foreland have disappeared in the Netherlands (due to land reclamation and building projects). Room for the River is partly restoring what has been lost. • The rivers need to process more melted snow and ice and rainwater – due to increased extremes of climate. It rains more and harder, particularly in winter. Studies by the IPCC show that annual levels of precipitation in the Netherlands increased by 26% between 1910 and 2013. All seasons apart from the summer have become wetter.
• Looking ahead climatologists predict higher volumes of water flowing through Dutch rivers. According to the KNMI’14 climate scenarios, the average winter precipitation level is set to increase by 3-17% by 2050. • Europe experienced more than 100 major flooding incidents between 1998 and 2004. There were 700 fatalities and 250,000 people lost their homes. Total damage amounted to some € 25 billion.
‘Between 1910 and 2013 the annual level of precipitation increased by 26% in the Netherlands’ • Flooding in Europe caused € 4.9 billion of damage in the period 2000-2012. Scientists from institutes such as VU University Amsterdam believe that this amount will have risen to € 23.5 billion by 2050. • In 1993 and 1995 the Netherlands was confronted with extremely high water levels. The dykes held but there was extensive inundation. 1995 in particular came very near to a flood situation, with a quarter of a million people and a million livestock having to be evacuated. • A breach in the dykes along the river would endanger four million people. • In the Netherlands most hubs of economic activity are in low-lying areas. Floods here could result in more than 1,000 fatalities and damage totalling € 100 billion.
ROOM FOR THE RIVER | MAKING ROOM FOR SAFETY
Statistics Once in 1,250 years? Under the Dutch Flood Defence Act river dykes must be resilient against extremely high water levels that only occur once every 1,250 years. This safety standard is based on statistics for intervals between extremely high water levels. Once every 1,250 years may seem conservative odds but high water levels in 1993 and 1995 constitute evidence that the interval can be shorter. Put another way: every year brings a 1/1250 chance of extremely high water levels – beyond the capacity of this country’s river dykes.
• The Netherlands acts as Europe’s drainpipe. The great rivers of Switzerland, France, Germany and Belgium flow through the Netherlands to the North Sea. This increases susceptibility to flooding. To this end Room for the River works closely with neighbouring countries via the International Commission for the Protection of the Rhine and other forums. Meanwhile our neighbours are also actively involved in river widening and water storage.
The benefits Safe and attractive
• By giving the rivers more room the Rhine will be able to safely carry 16,000 m3 water per second to the sea. The current figure is 15,000 m3/s. This represents an increase of 1,000 m3/s (approx. 4,000 bathtubs). • An extremely high water level is a discharge in excess of 15,000 m3/s (around 30 x 25-metre swimming pools) which the Rhine can currently carry safely. This is termed benchmark discharge. • The Rhine discharges just over 2,000 m3/s (average). In the 1995 high water situation the Rhine carried 12,000 m3/s. • 16,000 m3/s was already recorded in the Rhine in 1786. • With a view to keeping Dutch feet dry in succeeding years, as of 2015 the Delta programme will take action to ensure that the country’s rivers can safely carry 18,000 m3/s. The programme is looking ahead to 2100.
Completion of the Room for the River programme will mean a safer and more attractive river region. This is essential for the following reasons: • Measures under Room for the River will reduce high water levels in the Rhine (branches) by an average of 30 cm. • Room for the River will also be taken as an opportunity to improve the spatial planning quality of the river region. Examples include a new island in the River Waal at Nijmegen and waterside commercial opportunities at the Avelingen business park.1
‘Noordwaard makes sacrifices for the safety of the people of Werkendam and Gorinchem’ Interrelated As strong as the weakest link Room for the River comprises a package of connected measures to increase safety for all residents of the river region. This includes close cooperation with neighbouring countries. • Room for the River is providing more space for rivers at more than 30 locations and by means of 9 distinct formulas. This includes dyke repositioning and depoldering. • Action is also being taken in areas where this impacts positively on other areas. Examples include depoldering of the Noordwaard and the resultant reduction of water levels at Gorinchem. Hence Noordwaard residents are making sacrifices for the safety of the people of Werkendam and Gorinchem.
1 In this context flooding is taken to mean an unmanageable volume of water flowing into the country from the sea or rivers due to dyke breaches or overflows – where emergency measures fail to stem the water.
Published on Feb 25, 2015