In coming years, the Netherlands plans to invest billions of euros into water safety, freshwater supplies, water quality and nature conservation. The government feels it is important to link these investments to goals pertaining to water and spatial quality, including nature, in order to achieve greater social returns.
Using nature to carry out water-related tasks
The question is: 'What role can nature areas and natural processes play in carrying out water-related tasks?’ And: ‘How can we ensure that linking water and water-related tasks becomes business as usual?' To answer these questions, Alterra Wageningen UR conducted research on behalf of the Ministry of Economic Affairs into success factors and impediments based on recent experiences, and into opportunities to create links in the planning period for the new water management plans. A broad approach was taken to the research, conducted in collaboration with the Ministry of Infrastructure & the Environment, the Ministry of Economic Affairs, water boards, conservation organisations and provinces. ‘There are already numerous opportunities available,’ says Alterra researcher Tim van Hattum, ‘but, needless to say, not all opportunities are being utilised.’
The Delta Programme has already been implemented. In coming years, numerous implementation projects will be prepared for climate-resilient water safety and freshwater supplies. New projects are also in the works for the Water Framework Directive, aimed at raising the quality of water systems to the desired level. All of these projects offer opportunities for a clever combination with other functions, including nature conservancy. It has become clear in practice that the compartmentalisation of policy fields often stands in the way of an integral approach. Water and conservation policies are not sufficiently interwoven in terms of content or procedures. This applies not only to national government policy, but also often to provincial and water board policies.
Relevant points for attention
The researchers list the following points for attention: sectoral financing, the importance of collaboration at an early stage and the importance of a well-documented consideration between an integral and innovative approach on the one hand and traditional solutions on the other. They present a series of recommendations to resolve these bottlenecks. Tim van Hattum explains, ‘It is first and foremost important that the national government and regional authorities express their joint goals for taking maximum advantage of opportunities. These should be based on integral regional visions and agendas. In preparing implementation projects for water-related and nature conservation tasks, it should be mandatory to conduct a ‘linkage test’. An incentive fund and long-term knowledge and innovation programme are essential for taking advantage of opportunities for green innovations that can also benefit the Water top sector. Finally, we argue in favour of establishing a national task force with representatives from the most important parties (Ministry of Infrastructure & the Environment, Ministry of Economic Affairs, provinces, water boards, conservation organisations, knowledge institutions and the business community) that must ensure that the goals we have jointly formulated are pursued.'