On Wednesday afternoon, the Dutch government announced that the Netherlands was officially suffering from a water shortage, with national water levels at an all-time low. But what does this mean, and how might it affect your day-to-day life? 

MTW and Dutch government announce national water shortage

Following a lengthy meeting on Wednesday, the Water Shortage Management Team (Managementteam Watertekorten, or MTW) declared that the “persistent drought” had resulted in a “de facto water shortage.” 

At Wednesday’s press conference, spokespeople from the MTW and Dutch Weather Institute (KNMI) announced that national water levels were “historically low.” The key issue is that this means the Rhine River is now supplying 50 percent less water than usual. In the long term, this can lead to salinisation of the soil, which causes major issues for the farming industry.

On July 13, the MTW – made up of representatives from the Rijkswaterstaat, Dutch water boards, drinking water companies, various government ministries, and the 12 provinces of the Netherlands – declared a level one threat, indicating that a water shortage was imminent. As of August 3, a level two threat applies, meaning the country is suffering from a real shortage of water supplies.

How has this happened when the Netherlands has so much water?

You may be wondering how the Netherlands – a country known for its abundance of water – could even suffer from a shortage of the stuff. Interestingly, this actually marks the fifth time in the last 22 years that the MTW has been forced to declare a water shortage, with the situation even escalating to a level three threat (a designated national crisis) in 2003.

The Netherlands may be known for wet and unpredictable weather, but thanks to climate change this year has been extremely dry. Calculations show that there is an average precipitation deficit of 220 millimetres across the country – normally at this time of year, this figure is only 100. With weather forecasts predicting no heavy rain in August, experts warn that the shortage will last until at least the end of the month. 

What does this mean? How will the shortage affect me?

Many might be worried about what this will mean for their lives in the Netherlands, and whether the water shortage will affect the country’s supply of drinking water or any of the water management systems in place to protect the country from flooding. 

The good news is that the average citizen or resident won’t notice much. For now, the water shortage will only really affect those working in certain industries – namely the shipping and farming industries – and nature in the Netherlands. 

“The water shortage is already having a negative effect on shipping and agriculture in particular,” said Mark Harbers, the minister for Infrastructure and Water Management. “The drought is also becoming increasingly visible in nature. Based on current developments, it is conceivable that the drought will affect more social interests.”

“There will be absolutely sufficient drinking water,” says Bart Vonk, chairman of the National Water Distribution Coordination Committee (LCW). “At the moment there is no major problem for the average citizen.” However, if the situation doesn’t improve, it is possible that the price of water could go up in the long term.

What can I do to help conserve water?

The MTW is now responsible for putting together a plan of action to combat the shortage, and various ideas have already been presented, including setting up a bubble screen in Diemen which would separate salt and fresh water and prevent the salinisation of the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal, and limiting the inlet of water from the Ijsselmeer. 

On a smaller scale, MTW chair Michèle Blom has called on members of the public to be economical with their use of water, asking them to use drinking water sparingly and to avoid washing their car regularly or watering their garden excessively. Blom did, however, emphasise that there was no way of enforcing a law to encourage water conservation.

Minister Harbers shared a similar message: “I ask all Dutch people to think carefully about whether they should wash their car or fill their inflatable swimming pool completely. The Netherlands is a water country, but our water is precious here too.”

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