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How can we build new homes if we don't have enough water?

The Netherlands has a serious housing problem. To solve this, the Dutch government has plans to build 900.000 new homes in the next 10 years. Many of these houses will be situated in the western part of the country, the so-called Randstad. But how can we safely grow the population of an already densely populated area, if there is not enough fresh water supply?

'Perhaps a shortage of water is the most fundamental problem in our future', says director Wim Drossaert of Dunea, the company that produces drinking water for the Dutch regions of The Hague, Leiden, Zoetermeer and Bollenstreek.

'Because more and more people are coming to live in this region, we have to produce more and more water,' he says. 'At the same time, we are dealing with climate change which means you have longer periods of drought. These two developments are becoming increasingly difficult to combine. Therefore, what I am saying now can be interpreted perfectly well as a cry for help.'

From the dunes around Scheveningen, Dunea produces 85 billion liters of drinking water for about 1.3 million people. Because of the population growth projected by Dutch statistics buro CBS, the company will have to supply 1.5 million people with water in 2030, which amounts to 10 billion liters of additional water. 'We would not be able to meet that growth at this time,' says Drossaert. 'Surely there will continue to be water coming out of the tap, we will take care of that. But if something doesn't change soon, we will have to distribute the water differently in the future. This means quite simply: reduced pressure. So no more hard jet from your tap, but a soft one.'

The Hague region mainly consumes water from the Maas and Lekwater - two rivers whose water levels are declining and which are simultaneously becoming increasingly polluted. Therefore Vewin, the association of water utilities in the Netherlands, let it be known last month that without additional measures it is impossible to guarantee that enough drinking water will be available in time for the more than 900 thousand new homes the government wants to build. Besides Dunea (South Holland), the situation is particularly dire at Waterbedrijf Groningen, Vitens (Twente and parts of Utrecht) and Brabant Water (North Brabant).

To get ahead of these measures, pilots are underway at Dunea with the filtering of brackish groundwater, the purification of drinking water from the Valkenburg Lake is under consideration, and new sources are being sought at several locations in the region. 'We have to build new water sources. Only, fair is fair: that's very, very difficult at the moment.'

That's because there are disadvantages to all the alternatives mentioned, Drossaert says. For example, because of the use of a special membrane technology, the brackish water solution requires a lot of energy, with all the implications for consumers' water bills. And when looking for new sources in the dunes around Scheveningen, nature permits pose another problem. After all, every expansion project requires new pumps, pipes and infiltration ponds at the expense of, say, the habitat of nesting birds or a new construction project desired by developers. Even in the pieces still available, the Netherlands is now quite full.

'Until now the general idea has been: we live in a wet country, so water just comes out of the tap,' says Drossaert. 'Water, in other words, is

not often seen as the most urgent problem. But the truth is: we are already in our reserves. That's why it sometimes irritates us that we are never called by an alderman when there are plans for yet another new housing development. Sometimes it seems like something bad has to happen first before we in Nederlandecht want to take action.'


Above quotes are a literal translation of the article 'Plannen zat in Den Haag voor bouwprojecten. Maar is er ook genoeg drinkwater?', written by Jarl van der Ploeg for De Volkskrant, published November 3, 2022. All copyright lies with Jarl van der Ploeg and De Volkskrant.


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