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A Dutch Approach to Flood Resilience

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Winter 2015   


        Federal Disaster Policy: Toward a More Resilient Future
        The Research Basis for Disaster Resilience
        Preparing for the Next Disaster: Three Models of Building Resilient Communities

A Dutch Approach to Flood Resilience

Rendering shows an aerial view of proposed flood resilience measures to protect the cityof Nijmegen.
Although a dramatic change in the urban fabric of Nijmegen, the new flood resilience measures shown in this rendering will protect the city against a flood that occurs once every 1,250 years. Photo courtesy: Municipality of Nijmegen/Room fort the river Waal
At a narrow bend in the Waal River in the Netherlands, the city of Nijmegen is reducing its flood risk by widening the floodplain of the river and adding a diversion channel. These flood mitigation measures are part of the Room for the River program, a nearly $3 billion effort that seeks to restore natural floodplains on Dutch rivers away from the places where people live and work.1 With nearly 60 percent of the country susceptible to coastal and river flooding, including the major cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht, and The Hague, flood protection is always at the forefront of Dutch thinking.2 A worst-case scenario flood could inundate half of the Netherlands, affecting 10 million people and inflicting more than $200 billion in damage.3 Room for the River, which started in 2007 and is expected to be completed by 2016, restores natural “water sponges,” such as marshes and wetlands, to increase floodwater storage capacity. These restoration projects also improve the biodiversity of rivers and enhance their aesthetic and recreational value. Other mitigation efforts include lowering floodplains, relocating dykes further inland, removing river obstacles, and deepening riverbeds.4

At $460 million, the project at Nijmegen is largest and most expensive of the 39 Room for the River projects completed or ongoing in the Netherlands.5 The dike on the north side of the Waal River will be moved inland 350 meters, reducing the high-water level of the river by 13 inches. The new diversion channel, once completed, will be 3 kilometers long and 200 meters wide and create an island in the Waal River. Placed at a bottleneck in the river, the diversion channel will prevent flooding by allowing water to flow more freely when the water volume of the river increases. Local officials seized on the potential of the newly created island to build a new riverfront park and add new bicycle and pedestrian paths along the dike and on bridges connecting the island to the mainland. Along the shore, Nijmegen is rejuvenating the waterfront by adding new housing and a quay, which is a paved walkway that runs along the edge of the shore and gradually slopes down toward the water.6

In addition to improving Nijmegen’s quality of life, these flood protection measures offer greater long-term benefits than cheaper measures such as simply deepening the riverbed, which Room for the River officials estimated would have sufficed for only 10 to 20 years and still would have required relocating the dike. Including a diversion channel, on the other hand, should protect the city for the next 100 years.7 When first introduced, the plan encountered stiff opposition because it called for the elimination of 50 homes in the established village of Lent, which is part of the municipality of Nijmegen. The city offered displaced residents compensation and land in other parts of the city, which helped soothe opposition, and involved residents in designing improvements to the waterfront. Through negotiations and collaboration with stakeholders, including 19 local, regional, and national organizations involved with developing or implementing parts of the overall project, the officials were able to address many residential concerns and build strong support for the final plan.8

  1. Ruimte Voor De Rivier Programme. “Room for the River Factsheet: Dutch Water Program Room for the River” ( Accessed 28 January 2015.
  2. Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. “Correction wording flood risks for the Netherlands in IPCC report” ( Accessed 28 January 2015.
  3. Ruimte Voor De Rivier Programme. 2012. “Room for the River Brochure: From higher dykes to river widening,” 5 ( Accessed 28 January 2015.
  4. Ruimte Voor De Rivier Programme, “Room for the River Factsheet.”
  5. P. Nijssen and M. Schouten. 2012. “Dutch national Room for the River project: Integrated approach for river safety and urban development,” Integrative Sciences and Sustainable Development of Rivers conference.
  6. Flood ResilienCity. “The Room for the River Project at Nijmegen” ( Accessed 2 December 2014; Ruimte voor de Waal Nijmegen. “Room for the Waal” ( Accessed 2 December 2014; Ruimte voor de Waal Nijmegen. “Room for the Waal English Brochure” ( Accessed 28 January 2015; Pim Nijssen. 2012. “Integrated approach for river safety and urban development,” presentation at Dutch National Room for the River Programme conference.
  7. European Climate Adaptation Platform. “Room for the River Waal – protecting the city of Nijmegen (2016)” ( Accessed 28 January 2015.
  8. Nijssen 2012; ClimateWire. 2012. “How the Dutch Make ‘Room for the River’ by Redesigning Cities,” Scientific American digital, 20 January. Accessed 28 January 2015.


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