In Drenthe, the water level has dropped by half to a whole meter in many places. To give the soil there the sponge effect it used to have again, they have started a project in the Hunze valley to retain water for longer.
“In this way we prevent flooding in the low-lying areas in Groningen,” says Uko Vegter of Stichting Het Drentse Landschap. “And it creates a buffer of groundwater for the drier months. Wet nature has been created here, which also protects the peat. When peat soil becomes too dry, it oxidizes, causing it to settle and release greenhouse gases. This is therefore prevented. win win situation.”
Let nature lend a hand
Climate change is making springs drier and our winters wetter. To prevent drought later in the year, we want to retain as much water as possible. “That is relatively new for the Netherlands, where traditionally the excess water is drained as quickly as possible via streams and rivers to the sea,” says RTL climate specialist Bart Verheggen.
For example, farmers like to keep the groundwater level artificially low, so that the heavy machines and cows do not sink into the soggy ground.
One of the measures they have taken in Drenthe is to let the river De Hunze meander again. A river is then given the space, so that water is not drained too quickly to lower-lying areas, but just has time to sink into the soil.
Soil is the best place to hold water. Surface water reservoirs take up valuable space and can lose a lot of water through evaporation when temperatures rise in spring and summer – just when we need it. A lot of water can be stored underground as a nest egg.
In Drenthe they have taken even more measures to achieve this. For example, streams have been made less deep and in some cases completely filled in. The latter has been done, for example, in De Branden Nature Reserve. Previously, the rainwater that collected in the valley was quickly drained through ditches and streams.
“As a result, the area has become much wetter, and the vegetation has changed as well,” explains Emiel Galetzka of the Hunze en Aa’s Water Board.
Bag ditches and pits have been constructed on the higher sandy soils such as the Hondsrug. Digging a shallow pit or ditch prevents the water from flowing down the hills straight into the valley. Instead, the water can collect in those places as a temporary fen or ditch and slowly seep into the bottom.
Netherlands water country
The Netherlands Waterland has traditionally been good at tackling and preventing flooding. Its importance will only increase as extreme precipitation increases due to climate change. Warm air can hold more water vapour, so when it rains it comes down in larger quantities.
But this brings a relatively new challenge. Higher temperatures also lead to more evaporation. If it doesn’t rain for a while, it can quickly become very dry.
This video further explains how climate change is leading to both more extreme precipitation and drought:
A dry summer, isn’t it nice?
It is important to prevent this, because drought causes all kinds of problems. A ban on spraying in the garden is annoying, but manageable. For farmers, a water shortage is a serious threat to the harvest. Nature can also slowly perish because of it.
Plants that are used to an excess of nitrogen often have shallower roots. This makes them more sensitive to drought.
And drought can cause problems in even more ways. Many will remember the photos of rivers that dried up last summer. The Rhine, Europe’s most important river, was struggling with an extremely low water level. This resulted in billions of dollars in damage.
In addition to shipping, a low water level also has consequences for the foundations of buildings. Hundreds of thousands of houses were in danger of sinking due to the persistent drought, the Eigen Huis association reported in August. And let’s not forget that groundwater is the most important source of drinking water supply.
‘We have no use for salt water’
That is why water buffers are sorely needed, water experts shout in unison. And above all retain water locally in the soil. This is a billion-dollar operation that will become increasingly important in the coming decades. Once in the sea it becomes salty, and that is of no use to us.
“It’s about retaining water as much as possible and mitigating climate effects,” says Uko Vegter. “Those effects will only get sharper in the coming years, so we have a lot more to do about it.”
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