Room for the Rivers

The Netherlands is vulnerable to flooding. Not just from the sea but from our rivers too. They are more frequently having to cope with high water levels. For that reason we need to give the rivers more space, so that they can safely discharge the water flowing through them. This is how we are addressing the issue of safety in and around our rivers.

(On-screen title: Room for water safety. Voice-over:) Room for our rivers: room for river safety In 1993 and above all in 1995 things almost go very badly wrong in our river area. The water level in the rivers is so high it is feared the dykes will give way. At the end of January 1995, as a precaution, 250,000 people and 1 million animals are evacuated. It is a close call. Borgharen and Itteren, villages in Limburg unprotected by dykes, are flooded. These near disasters lead to a change in our water management. Instead of jamming our rivers between increasingly higher dykes we give them more room, where possible, to safely drain excess water into the North Sea and the IJsselmeer. We go with the water instead of just fighting it. For example we have moved dykes further inland. We have also dug water channels and lowered flood plains, which can safely fill with water if the level rises. All measures with a huge impact on the spatial planning of the river landscape along the Maas, Waal, Nederrijn, Lek and IJssel. (A landscape from the air.) Measures that were only possible thanks to close collaboration between Rijkswaterstaat, water authorities, provinces, municipalities, market parties and above all residents along these rivers. Resulting in a safer river area that also appeals to people and animals. Giving room to our rivers has led to considerable know-how and experience. Know-how and experience that help protect the Netherlands and also other deltas in the world as much as possible from flooding. (A cloud slowly obscures an aerial shot. The Dutch coat of arms next to: Rijkswaterstaat, Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment. The screen becomes yellow and white. On-screen text: More information? Go to A production of Rijkswaterstaat. Copyright 2019.) TRANQUIL MUSIC THAT FADES AWAY

More rainwater and meltwater

Extreme water levels demanded a new approach to tackling high water

The rivers distribute the water over the low-lying areas of the Netherlands and, in some cases, discharge it into the North Sea and the IJsselmeer. Climate change means that there are more frequent occurrences of peaks in rainwater and meltwater which cause a rise in the levels of our rivers.

Since the high water levels recorded in the 1990s, we have changed our approach to this. We give the rivers more room, rather than just strengthening and raising the dykes. This approach is clearly visible in the (completed) Room for the River and Maaswerken programmes.

New approach to high water levels in rivers

Extremely high water levels in the 1990s in the Netherlands caused many problems and resulted in ‘Room for the River’ being adopted as the new starting point for how to tackle high water levels in and around our rivers. This was not restricted to the since completed Room for the River and Maaswerken programmes. Even today, apart from making the dykes more effective, we give our rivers more room. This means that we can store and discharge more river water and, at the same time, adapt to the consequences of climate change.

Measures in and around rivers

Each river needs its own solution. There are many ways to give rivers more room. The Measures in and around rivers page lists all the methods that we have used in the context of the Room for the River and Maaswerken programmes, methods we still use today.

Water safety and quality of the environment

More room for rivers also means a change in the land use around rivers. It not only delivers greater water safety, but also new natural and recreational areas. In other words, an attractive environment for both people and animals. But sometimes a price has to be paid. In the event of depoldering or the relocation of dykes, people and businesses may be forced to move in order to give more room to the river.

International interest

Our approach has attracted a lot of international interest

Our knowledge and experience in widening watercourses and the close collaboration with residents and others do not go unnoticed abroad. This also leads to international collaborative partnerships in which we can share our knowledge.

Visit the Biesbosch National Park

Visit the Biesbosch National Park Biesbosch Museumeiland, one of the last extensive freshwater tidal wetlands in Northwestern Europe.