The Room for the River programme – giving rivers space to roam

How do we create a safer river delta while at the same time ensuring an attractive living environment? This is the question that the Dutch Directorate-General for Public Works and Water Management (Rijkswaterstaat) sought to answer through its Room for the River program. With this program, the emphasis was shifted from reinforcing dikes to creating more space for the river, with an unprecedented focus on the spatial quality of the whole river delta.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

Where dikes used to be reinforced and made higher to contain the river, there are now over thirty areas where the rivers IJssel, Waal, Lek, and Nederrijn have more space to expand. Between 2013 and 2018, the Room for the River Programme comprised as many as 34 projects.

The program came under the responsibility of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature, and Food Quality, and their ministerial predecessors. The Directorate-General for Public Works and Water Management was the implementing agency in charge of the program. In total, seven provincial authorities, eight water boards, and thirty municipal authorities took part in the project. Implementation of the program has ensured better flood protection for residents and improved the spatial quality of the river delta. To make this happen, the program looked for innovative solutions that would give rivers more space. In the selection of contractors to work on the various projects, the Directorate-General for Public Works and Water Management liaised intensively with provincial authorities, water boards, and municipal authorities. Responsibilities were devolved to local authorities as much as possible.

For years, the Netherlands’ policy to keep people safe from flooding was all about making dikes higher. However, this was not the solution everywhere to guarantee residents’ safety. Given current climate predictions, it will rain more and harder in the Netherlands, and the country needs to be able to defend itself against all that extra water. In this light, it is important that the authorities be able to lower the water level when necessary. And this is possible only by creating more space for rivers to flow, which is exactly what the Directorate-General for Public Works and Water Management has done. However, in some areas, this extra space for the river has led to drastic changes to people’s living environment.

To handle this delicate matter appropriately, the Directorate-General for Public Works and Water Management struck up close collaborations with water boards, municipal authorities, and other local parties. The State's ambition was to create an impulse in areas that would see changes. Each area is different, and residents needed different things in their area. It was a prime opportunity for the Directorate-General for Public Works and Water Management to actively engage with local actors and harness their knowledge and ideas for their local area. Solutions were designed in partnership with the people themselves. The Directorate-General for Public Works and Water Management set out the framework, but entered into dialogue within those boundaries, engaging with residents and local parties in areas where the projects would take place.

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Year: 2013
Level of government: National/Federal government


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