Severe flood events are not uncommon phenomena in the Rhine Delta as the examples of the devastating floods in 1993 and 1995 show. The water levels were extremely high, 200.000 residents had to be evacuated and the dikes just managed to hold. As the climate change will proceed, extremely high river discharges will occur more frequently in the future and it was recognized, that the problem must not be underestimated. That is why the government decided to implement an integrated approach to flood defense in the river Rhine area by approving the Room for the River Programme.
In the Netherlands, more than 50 % of the inhabitants live below sea level or would be living in the floodplain if there were no dikes. A high flood risk is determined in the region of the great rivers IJssel, Lek, Maas and Waal, the intervention area of the programme ‘Room for the River’. The river Waal bends sharply near Nijmegen and moreover, it narrows itself in the form of a bottleneck. Calculations showed that the much larger volumes of water from the Alpine regions and Germany that have to be dealt with would get backed up enormously. The consequences of this effect would be virtually uncontrollable for the areas along the river. The conclusion drawn by the authorities was that the river would have to be widened at Nijmegen in any event, and that this would have to be done by making more space in the Waal near Nijmegen.
The main objective of the Room or the River Programme is to ensure that the rivers could discharge the forecast greater volumes of water without flooding. This should lead to an increase of safety and to an improvement of overall environmental quality of the river region. Special attention will be paid to conserving and developing its protected nature values.
The aim is to make the area more attractive and improve quality of life by integrating water with other spatial functions. Future spatial developments must not form an obstacle in taking the necessary measures. The Room for the River programme will be completed by approximately end of 2015.
The project ‘Room for the River Waal’ is part of the programme. It focuses on all the bottlenecks along the Dutch rivers and aims to lower the flood risk. Possible solutions to give the rivers more room are e.g. dike relocations and the implementation of high-water channels in the form of a separate branch to discharge some of the water. In the case of Nijmegen, this involves moving the northern Waal dike in the direction of Lent and constructing an ancillary channel in the flood plains. This will create an island in the Waal. Moreover, this project will incorporate large urban developments on both sides of the ancillary channel, like an upgrading of the riverside walk and a new residential zone.
The appearance of Nijmegen will drastically change in the years to come. In addition to relocating the dike at Lent, these changes include the development of the new city district ‘the Waalsprong’, the construction of three new bridges and the redevelopment of the waterfront at both sides of the Waal.
Besides providing more space for the river it also gives the opportunity for developing a unique and beautiful river park with lots of possibilities for recreation, culture, water and nature. Furthermore the development of an high situated island in the Waal for housing; a splendid location in the centre of the river park. As a result of these projects along both banks of the river Waal, the river will no longer flow alongside the city, but rather through it.
In this way, Nijmegen has turned the necessity into an opportunity. The flood protection measures are integrated into the development of the city which will increase the attractiveness of the city. The solution is far-reaching, yet sustainable and safe.
The actual digging on huge construction sites has started in 2013. The relocating of the dike, the construction of the ancillary channel and the raising of the island are to be realised at the end of 2015 if all goes according to schedule. The area will be further developed in the years after to allow for recreation, housing facilities and other urban functions.
Room for the Rivers
Website of "Rijkswaterstaat" - executive agency of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management
Wierdy de Haan
City of Nijmegen