The drinking water sector in the Netherlands has issued a stark warning this week: if action is not taken quickly, new housing planning could leave companies unable to provide enough supplies and keep tap water running.
The housing crisis has been a pressing issue for quite some time, but now solutions devised to address it seem to pose the threat of an unforeseen ripple effect. Earlier this year, the cabinet laid out a proposal to build 900.000 additional homes by 2030. An ambitious project in need of a feasibility check.
Drinking water companies are already strained given the increased demand for water caused by both a rapidly expanding population and economic growth. Now they urge the government to bear in mind that viable homes must be connected to a water grid and that it takes years for new supply facilities to become fully serviceable.
Out of the ten companies scattered across the country, at least three need to urgently ramp up production capacity in order to secure water supplies in the long run.
“Some companies are already using up the operational reserves destined for calamities and other unexpected events. This is just not a sustainable situation,” claims Hans de Groene, the director of Vewin, the Association of water companies in the Netherlands.
The lobbying group believes that the national government should work in lockstep with provincial authorities, as these ultimately have the power to issue permits for groundwater extraction. But sometimes these licenses are delayed, as land-use planning requires a trade-off between multiple stakeholders.
The provincial government denies holding back on granting permits. “There are 2 locations Waterbedrijf Groningen is looking at increasing their production capacity. At one location there already is a permit,” said Jan var de Meide, a spokesperson for the province. “The second location is in the province of Drenthe. The drinking water company is planning to ask for a permit next month.”
Vewin is also making a plea to the Minister for Housing, Hugo de Jonge, for “including timely provisions of sufficient drinking water as one of the targets that provinces have to achieve” when drafting and implementing their future housing and spatial plans.
“We do see the issues mentioned by the drinking water companies. We are making sure there is no shortage for households. Not now, not in the future,” replied in a statement Liz Zoetekouw, a spokesperson for The Ministry for Infrastructure and Water Management.
“Before the new year, we will send an extensive letter to the Parliament about how we will make sure the 900.000 housing units will get water as well,” insists the Press Officer.
The right to access clean, safe and affordable drinking water is enshrined in the Dutch law. At all levels of government, public officials have a duty of care toward citizens. “They have the duty to make sure that drinking water companies can honor their obligation and do their job properly,” reiterates Hans de Groene.
If this wake-up call were to fall on deaf ears, the shortage could turn into a full-on crisis. “We need to speed things up. If help does not materialize quickly, predominantly from the provincial governments, we will see supply problems in increasing numbers of regions, within a few years already, Groningen among others,” said the director of Vewin.
Warmer summers and longer dry spells have only made the dearth of water worse, as they both contribute to a reduction in groundwater recharge. Given Groningen’s proximity to the sea, this further increases the risk of the salinization of the soil, which is a threat not only to groundwater wells but to agriculture as well. Hence the need for cutting-edge technologies for water purification.