In July 2021, large areas in Western Europe were hit by extreme rainfall. For example, in the Geul catchment, maximum precipitation amounts of up to 180 mm were recorded. The Waterboard of Limburg estimated that the damage was around 1.8 billion euros in the Netherlands, while the total international damage is more than tenfold that amount. The thematic working group Limburg 2021 of the Delta Futures Lab in Delft works on a variety of research topics to add to the knowledge about the event and to investigate how such large damages can be avoided in case of future events. These investigations include topics on flood risk management, climate change, flood damage estimates, hydrological assessments of several areas, and a comparison of the effects of this flood to the effects of historic events.

Preluded by its name, the command area of the Water Board Rijn en IJssel is demarcated by the river Rhine to the south and the river IJssel to its west. Aeolian sand deposits stemming from the last ice age covered the undulating landscape witch rises from 7 m +NAP near the river IJssel to 50 +NAP near the border with Germany in the east. Numerous smaller rivers and streams dissect the area. While bordering the rivers IJssel and Rhine, the area largely relies on local water resources from precipitation and some transboundary inflow of surface water from Germany via the Oude IJssel, Berkel, and Slinge.  Groundwater inflow is small and limited to some seepage flow from the Veluwe Massive that manages to reach the area from the opposite the river IJssel.

After three successive years of extreme low summer precipitation, water boards and water utilities call for action. Delta Futures lab takes on this challenges. The lab starts a collaborative project with the Water board Rijn and IJssel to invent, design and evaluate unorthodox measures and develop adaptation pathways for Rijn and Ijssel to an arid climate.

The Rhine Estuary-Drechtsteden Region owes its prosperity to its advantageous location in the delta, where the North Sea and the rivers Rhine and Meuse converge. It is a region of extremes, featuring densely populated urban areas surrounded by cultural landscapes and nature reserves.

The area is developing rapidly and needs to address issues such as sea level rise and soil subsidence. The water and flood risk management of the main water system is of supra regional and international importance in many respects. It affects water availability for agriculture, water supply and inland shipping up to Germany and Belgium, it influences the entrance to the port of Rotterdam and it determines the ecological connectivity of the Rhine and Meuse rivers to the North sea. Consequently the region avails of a complicated infrastructure for water and flood risk management, dykes, storm surge barrier, locks, and sluices.

Decision making on water management in the region concerns a large  set of stakeholders on many levels, scales, and sectors: the port of Rotterdam worries about  the entrance to the port, NGOs advance nature and ecological concerns and opportunities onto the policy agenda, Rijkswaterstaat and Water Boards take their responsibility for water safety and regional water management, and water supply companies and agriculture and horticulture guards their intakes of fresh water.

Do you want your thesis or the thesis you supervise to have societal impact? To engage in transdisciplinary research and collaboration? Work with other students, University staff and practitioners? Make Zwolle climate-resilient? In this Delta Futures Lab with the 4TU Centre for Resilience Engineering (4TU.RE Centre), bachelor and master students, scientists and professionals engage in, mission-oriented research to design solutions for a climate-resilient Zwolle.

The Zwolle region, the old delta of the IJssel-Vecht in the former “Zuider Zee”, represents the Netherlands in small. High and dry sandy soils, river landscapes with cities and peat meadows, and polders below sea level. All connected through the water system. A water system that is changing because of climate change and increasing spatial demand for urbanization, housing, energy and mobility. Changes that put pressure on spatial functions and planning. The Zwolle region has the ambition to become a delta of the future: a climate-resilient, attractive and economically prosperous. With climate change and a resilient water system as main drivers for designing the landscape of the future, interdisciplinary solutions are key.

The Delta Futures lab aims to unite education, research and practice in innovative projects. It provides a multidisciplinary network for students who have the ambition to become interdisciplinary leaders in spatial design, engineering and governance of deltas. Collaboration between students, societal stakeholders and University staff takes place in thematic working groups. In the past year, groups were organized around challenges such as the Limburg 2021 floods, Urban Climate Adaptation, and the Rhine Estuary-Drechtsteden under sea level rise. In the 2022-2023 academic years, the 4TU.RE Centre, the municipality of Zwolle and regional water authority Drents Overijsselse Delta (WDODelta) organize a Thematic Working group that focuses on to achieving climate-resilient urban development in Zwolle region.

 

Unsustainable growth (urbanization) and climate change increase the urgency to radically change our current practice of delta management. There is still too much emphasis on short term solutions which constrains options to consider sustainable solutions on the long term. Moreover, in the coming decades, an opportunity for a ‘reset’ of the existing infrastructure is near as huge investments in this sector are foreseen in many deltas.  However, an integrated strategy, an appealing perspective on the ‘delta future’ and the knowledge to develop the pathways to a sustainable and inclusive delta, are lacking.

It is more important than ever to collectively build the knowledge needed to develop these pathways in which transformations will likely be necessary. Both require a design-based approach in which these different perspectives are recognised and joint new perspectives are explored, identified and visualised.

We therefore initiated an ambitious, inter-disciplinary and multi-annual project, which puts design and design-based research at the heart to deliver these outcomes. This project, Redesigning Deltas (RDD), also aims to build in parallel new partnerships and capacities within the Dutch delta community and of other deltas to foster implementation for instance by delivering an innovative educational ‘delta-design’ program.