Adaptation Strategies

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Much work on adaptation for the Rhine Basin has been conducted, as outlined in the Non-structural Flood Plain Management study of the ICPR (2002). The main adaptation types that address the impacts described in the previous paragraphs can be arranged in three categories: (i) land use modification; (ii) structural measures; and (iii) non-structural measures.

Adaptation categories in the Rhine Basin

Land use modification

Land use modification measures first of all address increased flood and drought risks. By changing land use practices, people and society can adjust to the total amount, as well as the variability in the amount, of water available. Reduction of the vulnerability of natural water systems to extreme conditions is a guiding principle in this approach. For example, in the case of droughts, catchments with significant artificial storage in reservoirs, groundwater recharge or regulated flows can withstand drought for a longer period. Or, in the case of increased floods, planned urban developments in floodplains should be reconsidered and at least be designed to limit potential flood damage to an acceptable minimum.

With a (potential) increase in flood frequency and flood levels, the duration of floods and the extent of flooding will increase. As a result, the area of flood-prone land will expand and the economic value of already flood-prone agricultural areas will be reduced. It is expected that flood-prone agricultural areas will increasingly be used for nature rehabilitation or reforestation projects. This shift in land use can be combined with recreational use, although the main role often is a buffering function for excess runoff. Limiting agricultural activities in floodplains as an adaptation to increasing discharges is expected to have a positive impact on the environment. Autonomous development of nature in these floodplains is expected to contribute to a higher diversity of habitats, which in turn will create conditions for (re)colonization by species that have disappeared or are (locally) threatened. An additional positive impact on nature will be the reduced application of fertilizers and pesticides when agricultural activities in floodplains are abandoned. However, pollutants from upstream sources and resuspended polluted sediments might settle in the new nature areas and interfere with the full development of these areas.

Afforestation strategies aiming at (amongst others) a higher retention of the catchment will have a (potentially large) effect on groundwater storage in the catchment. This will allow urban water industries to rely more on groundwater as their main source of water. However, this trend is completely neutralized by the current policy to shift the source of the urban water production from groundwater to surface water.

With regard to energy use and energy production, an adaptation strategy that is very much linked to industries is the production and use of energy crops. In Western European society, where overproduction of food crops is becoming a major economic and environmental problem, the production of energy crops might prove a contribution to the solution. Whether this makes the energy industries less dependent on water for energy crop growth and cooling water demands remains to be seen (Stephens eí al., 2001).

Structural adaptation

Structural adaptation includes raising dykes or developing flood emergency storage areas. Strengthening and raising dykes to cope with floods will affect the river landscape in a negative way. No positive impact is foreseen for nature. When dykes are relocated to increase the width of the floodplain, this will benefit the environment, provided the floodplains are left for nature development. During the construction phases measures have to be taken to limit environmental impacts. Dredging to deepen the riverbed is another adaptation option, but it is expected to have negative impacts on the environment as it may destroy valuable habitats for riverine species and lower groundwater tables locally. Moreover, deposition of (polluted) sediments may lead to pollution. Increasing storage capacity by the creation of retention basins offers the possibility to actively contribute to the construction of areas with the potential for realizing high environmental nature values.

A structural measure in agriculture is to introduce new crops. In view of the constraints and risks possibly resulting from climate change, a move towards the development and introduction of more resilient crops and crop varieties is to be expected. At the same time the use of perennial crops (e.g. fruit and grapes) can provide a buffer to reduce the impact of short-term variability, although in general an increase in yield variability would be expected. Energy crops such as willow that are only harvested every few years would provide the best insurance against impacts of short-term climatic fluctuations. Use of such crops on the other hand has implications for the hydrology of an area. The soil moisture is utilized to a higher degree by deeper roots, resulting in a higher degree of depletion in the unsaturated zone during the growing season, and a higher storage capacity at the beginning of the winter season.

For navigation the major measures are dredging and structural measures to maintain the water depths in the navigation channels. A future with climate change will increase the number of sluices and weirs to maintain water levels and will increase the attention towards the innovation of technical water management solutions.

To secure water availability for industrial and cooling purposes there is already a trend towards the construction of larger reservoirs. These reservoirs can be actual structures, such as the three reservoirs of the Waterwinningsbedrijf Brabantse Biesbosch, serving 5 million people in the south-western part of The Netherlands, or can be provisions to increase groundwater storage.

Non-structural adaptation

As mentioned before, the EU agricultural policy is the dominating factor determining the present situation and future developments of agriculture in the Rhine Basin. This includes the present system of subsidies. On top of that, national legislation and regulating measures have a significant role.

Crop selection and risk insurance (apart from excluding climate variability through greenhouses, stables, etc.) are important adaptation measures. Research on new varieties and practices by government and private research establishments and dissemination of results through extension services and professional associations is well established and can easily incorporate climate change issues. The driving force will be adaptation to economic developments rather than climate change, although the risk assessment aspect ('commercial risk') will incorporate the aspect of increase in climate variability

Insurance mainly focuses on the impacts of extreme events (floods due to unusual rainfall, hailstorms, wind damage, etc.). An increase in frequency and extent of these events can make insurance cover unavailable or unaffordable. Relief measures take the place of insurance cover in case of disasters. (Partial) compensation of damage is a common response to floods, hurricanes and other natural extreme events. The reliance on relief measures and insurance cover is to a certain extent counteracting the implementation of adaptation measures, since it reduces the perceived (financial) risk.

Non-structural measures to deal with climatic variability and extremes can be relatively simple and cheap. An example is the use of shelter-belts to protect orchards against strong wind. This practice could be expanded to additional areas and crops to deal with increased risk of storms through amplified climate variability. A spin-off could be amelioration or improvement of local climate in semi-urban areas.

Non-structural strategies for navigation include all measures that are related to the composition of the fleet and the design of individual ships. Innovative ship design (such as the so-called river snake design) can decrease the draught of the ships, while maintaining the transport load. New materials can result in lighter ships, decreasing draught per transported unit of load. Other strategies might include the use of multi-modal transport means (using combined ship-truck-train transport chains to become less dependent on the available water depth) or strategic reservoirs at the destination location.

Non-structural strategies for industries include relocation of the production processes to become less vulnerable to floods and low water-level situations, and protection of water sources such as groundwater. This also includes the storage of raw materials and of waste to avoid water pollution during floods and to ensure continued production during times of interrupted supply. Increased water use efficiency (e.g. reuse of process water and cooling water) will contribute to reduce the dependency on external water supplies. The latter is particularly relevant during periods of limited water quantities (e.g. prolonged dry periods) but would also play a role when water quality becomes the limiting factor. This can occur both during very low discharges in the rivers or during very high flows.

Institutional arrangements

The International Commission for the Protection of the Rhine (IPCR) was initiated in the 1950s following concerns about pollution of the river and the implications for drinking water supply in the downstream regions. The IPCR has representatives from Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, Germany and The Netherlands. The ministers of the Rhine states met for the first time in 1972. They decided to draft international conventions and programmes to combat pollution. In 1976 the ministers adopted two conventions and the long-term working programme to reduce pollution. The Sandoz chemical spill after a fire in the factory and the subsequent large-scale fish kills in the Rhine downstream of Basel triggered a transition from the formulation of pollution control agreements to the implementation of the Rhine Action Programme for Ecological Rehabilitation (RAP) in 1987. At that time flood protection and flow management did not yet play a major role. After the flood events of the 1990s, the Conference of Rhine Ministers in 2001 adopted the Rhine 2020 programme on sustainable development of the Rhine. This succeeds the RAP, but also includes flood prevention and protection. The EU directive 2000/60, establishing a framework for EU action in the field of water policy (WFD), will contribute to the implementation of the 'Rhine 2020' programme. Important targets of the Rhine 2020 programme include ecosystem improvement, flood prevention and protection, water quality improvement and groundwater protection.

Adaptation strategies

On the basis of the discussion above, a number of key adaptation measures have been identified and combined into five strategies. Three adaptation strategies are dedicated to cope with impacts on the environment, food security and industrial capacity, respectively (Table 7.1). Furthermore, an integrated strategy combines the most important element of these three strategies. Finally, a BAU (Business As Usual) strategy is used for comparing the performance of the adaptation strategies. The principles of the policy plan 'Water Management for the 21st Century' (WB21, 2000) have been used to develop the adaptation strategies. For general background information see also the report of the 'Dutch Dialogue on Climate and Water' (NWP, 2003).

The adaptation strategies are defined as follows.

1. 'Environmental strategy': This strategy consists of the modification of land use practices; floodplain developments resulting in nature development and rehabilitation; implementation of upstream retention areas with nature development (reservoirs/wetlands) and afforestation plans; floodplain rejuvenation; the reduction of discharges and loads of domestic and industrial wastes; the reduction of sewer overflows and cooling water use.

2. 'Safety strategy': This strategy consists of the strengthening and heightening of dykes and levees; the development of emergency storage areas along downstream river stretches; the improvement of water retention in upstream parts of the catchment; enhancement of rapid discharge of floodwaters in downstream river stretches; raising awareness and preparedness by improved flood forecasting and information systems; inclusion of risk assessment in spatial planning; the provision of insurance systems and emergency plans.

3. 'Industrial strategy': This strategy includes the deepening of navigation channels; the implementation of additional weirs and sluices; lengthening of groynes;

Table 7.1. Adaptation measures and strategies.


Measures Environment Safety Industry Land use

Floodplain storage and retention ■ ■

Afforestation of catchment ■ □


Sluices/weirs/groynes ■

Heightening/enforcing embankments ■ □


Improving preparedness ■ □

Adapt ships and transportation strategies ■

Improve water use efficiency, reduce discharge ■ ■ of pollutants

■, Core measure of the strategy. □, Measure probably to be implemented but not essential for the strategy.

implementation of cooling water reservoirs (upstream or local) and towers; the implementation of alternative energy sources (wind, solar, etc.).

4. 'Integrated strategy': Implementation of retaining, storage and discharge measures and increasing awareness, preparedness and forecasting facilities. In the framework of this report this strategy is assumed to include the strengthening and heightening of dykes and levees in the lowland region of the River Rhine.

5. 'Business as usual/No adaptation': Based on autonomous developments. The crop yields are expected to increase, but total production will decrease by reduction of the area used for agriculture (by abandoning marginal lands vulnerable to the effects of climate variability and especially by the EU policy measures). Due to this, some nature development in the floodplain will take place. Otherwise the effects of the strategy will be neutral or negative. The latter especially concerns major economic and safety aspects and this strategy is therefore not considered a realistic option.

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