Water and deltas

Deltas, the areas where a river fans out towards the coast, are locations where many challenges converge. They are fertile and rich in water and therefore suitable for agriculture and livestock farming. Many people with different needs for land use live there. They often have rich ecosystems and play an important role in climate adaptation. In the deltas, you cannot separate water management from these challenges. Wageningen Environmental Research uses an integrated delta approach: in our research and recommendations we build bridges between professional fields, scale levels, and different stakeholders.

  • Water and deltas

Integrated approach to the area

As a result of our integrated approach on Sustainable Water Management, we are able to sketch future scenarios. What is the situation like now? How can it be influenced by certain factors? And what impact will those factors have? We take an interdisciplinary approach. For example, in the project ‘Deltas under pressure’ we work together with researchers from Wageningen Livestock Research, because the growing population will increase the demand for protein. This means more livestock farming in the delta area, which will impact land use, nutrient leaching, and salinisation as well as increased demand for drinking water and animal feed. If you do not consider these aspects in scenario development, you cannot create a realistic vision for the future.

We also look at scale levels and the interactions between the local, regional, and national levels. In our research and recommendations, we facilitate between these levels: for example to make the effects of salinisation on the individual farmer resonate in national policy development, or to prevent the degradation of a crucial ecosystem by farmers and fishermen.

  • The Wageningen University & Research programme “Voedselzekerheid en de waarde van water” (food security and the value of water) supports interdisciplinary cooperation related to food systems.
  • We combine extensive scientific knowledge of and expertise in food production and food systems, climate change, sea level rise, salinisation, subsidence and compaction, river plastics and water pollution, salt and freshwater ecosystems, hydrology and sediment deposits, governance, and participation.
  • We guide “transition pathways”: we provide support for the process from A to B in a delta setting.

International experience

Wageningen Environmental Research is a co-founder of the Delta Alliance, an international network that aims to promote delta resilience to climate change. We work in countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. We have contributed to the Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100 and are active in the Joint Cooperation Programme, in which we work together on applied knowledge with Deltares and two fellow institutes in Bangladesh (IWM, CEGIS). A delta plan has also been designed for the Mekong Delta, in which dikes are broken and agriculture is being replaced by shrimp cultivation. We are currently researching food systems in the Nile Delta as background documentation for the upcoming UN World Food Systems Summit (2021).

  • Local, regional, and international contacts that can facilitate delta programmes and delta plans

The Netherlands

The Netherlands is also a delta area, and as such a living lab for experiments with water safety, nature-based solutions, and dealing with increasingly extreme weather conditions such as drought and floods. Experts from Wageningen Environmental Research have created a map of the Netherlands in a hundred years (in 2120), to outline an alternative vision of a green, climate-proof country with a high quality of life. Soon, we will begin detailed development of the map for the lower areas of the Netherlands, with water management at its core.

Furthermore, we have been researching dikes and flood defences for 25 years, including erosion resistance and the biodiversity of dike grasslands. We also provide dike quality testing and management advice for clients. In the EcoShape consortium, we are involved in various projects related to building with nature and coastal protection in delta areas.

  • Knowledge of nature-based and nature-inclusive solutions for water management in deltas
  • Experience with dike quality and the biodiversity of dike grasslands
  • Satellite data and other data for mapping deltas and future scenarios


- Unfortunately, your cookie settings do not allow videos to be displayed. - check your settings