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Room for the River Waal – protecting the city of Nijmegen

Room for the River Waal – protecting the city of Nijmegen

The river Waal bends sharply and narrows near Nijmegen, the Netherlands. That the river may flood at high water as a result became clearly evident in 1993 and 1995. Adequate measures are necessary in order to protect the inhabitants of the city against this type of flooding and its impacts. In the case of Nijmegen, these measures involve moving the Waal dike at Lent and constructing an ancillary channel in the flood plains. This latter measure will create an island in the Waal and a unique urban river park in the heart of Nijmegen with room for living, recreational activities, culture, water and nature.





Case Study Description


The River Waal is the largest river in The Netherlands. It is a lowland river starting at the Pannerdens Canal, where the River Rhine splits into the Lower Rhine and the Waal. Its width is 350-400m on average. The first part, until the city of Nijmegen, is characterised by broad meanders and a broad winter bed up to 2 km wide. The second part is narrower and only slightly meandering and the associated floodplains are also narrower. The city of Nijmegen has a waterfront with landing places for ships. On the south shoreline of the river there is no room for the river to expand. On the other side of the river, there is a dike that protects the village of Lent against flooding from the river. Here, the river is at its narrowest. During periods of high river discharges, the town runs the risk of being flooded. Projections show that river discharges are expected to increase in winter time because of increased precipitation in the catchment area. The town of Nijmegen therefore faces increased threats of flooding, particularly as it is located at a bottleneck in the river.


The objective of the project was to protect both Nijmegen and Lent from flooding by creating more room for the river.


In the challenging project "Room for the Waal" solutions to climate change and urban development go hand in hand. By widening the floodplain, more room is created for the water and as a consequence the water levels in the river are reduced. To protect the area at the bend of the river Waal against flooding, a secondary meander will be dug, creating an island in the river Waal. The construction of a secondary meander will also create a unique urban river park in the heart of Nijmegen with space for living, recreation, culture, water and nature. The digging of this secondary meander, together with the relocation of the dike, construction of three bridges and the construction of a new quay is all part of the "Room for the River’ programme". The digging of the secondary meander has started in 2013.

The "Room for the River" programme
The residents in the Dutch river region were confronted with particularly anxious times in 1993 and 1995. The water levels in this region were extremely high and the dikes just managed to hold. A quarter of a million people had to be evacuated. Extremely high river discharges are projected to occur more frequently in the future and for this reason it was decided to ensure that the rivers could discharge the projected greater volumes of water without flooding. The Government approved the Room for the River Plan in 2007. The Plan has three objectives:

  • by 2015 the branches of the Rhine will cope with a discharge capacity of 16,000 cubic metres of water per second without flooding;
  • the measures implemented to increase safety will also improve the overall environmental quality of the river region; and
  • the extra room the rivers will need in the coming decades to cope with higher discharges due to the projected climate changes, will remain permanently available.

Case developed and implemented as a CCA (Climate Change Adaptation) Measure.

Additional Details

Stakeholder Participation

To develop the plans, stakeholders and the local community were engaged through newsletters, information meetings and interactive workshops. In the interactive workshops, plans were presented and the participants could provide their inputs. The plans were adapted on the basis of the inputs from these workshops. Through graphics and models, the effects of measures were visualised. Moreover, the whole planning procedure was subject to the Strategic Environmental Assessment and Environmental Impact Assessment procedures, including participation. Through the broad involvement of stakeholders and serious responses to their inputs, the stakeholders’ doubts and opposition were largely addressed. Overall there is currently broad support for the project.

Success and Limiting Factors

An important success factor was that the overall programme ‘Room for the River’ is coordinated and largely funded by the national government. It was a coordinated effort that not only focused on one location, but spread the overall problem over a range of measures at different locations. Each measure contributes a part of the solution. In addition, the programme was developed as a coordinated programme involving in total 19 partners, including national government, provinces, municipalities and water boards. The specific projects, moreover, were conducted with broad involvement of stakeholders and the local community.

An important limiting factor was the limitation of the budgets. This was partly overcome through securing additional funding from the provinces, water boards and municipalities. In addition to available funding, a limiting factor was the need for expropriation of land and compensation schemes for periodic flooding of lands included as part of the measures adopted.

Costs and Benefits

Total costs of the project are 351 million euro from the national budget.

From the viewpoint of safety, measures would have been necessary. Other, cheaper measures, like deepening the river bed, would have sufficed for one or two decades. The chosen measure of dike-relocation would probably have become necessary in the long run. From a strict economic point of view, the costs do not outweigh the benefits. However, the benefits of nature and recreation may be underestimated in the economic analysis, while the dike-relocation, an expensive measure, may have been unavoidable over time. Moreover, the measures introduced contribute to the overall goal of the "Room for the River" programme.

High river discharge situations in 1993 and 1995, causing the evacuation of 250.000 people in 1995, have led to a change in policy. Where the old policy was based on discharging surplus water to the sea as quickly as possible, the new policy became to first retain water, then store the water and finally discharge the excess water. The new water policy was later linked to nature development and implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive.

Implementation Time

Digging started in 2013. Relocation of the dyke, construction of the ancillary channel and island raising are to be realised by 2016. The area will be further developed in the years after to allow for recreation, housing and other urban functions.

Life Time

At least 100 years.

Reference Information


Ruimte voor de Rivier
afdeling Communicatie
Griffioenlaan 2
3526 LA Utrecht
Postbus 24103
3502 MC Utrecht
Telephone: 088 7972900
E-mail: info@ruimtevoorderivier.nl

Published in Climate ADAPT Jun 07 2016   -   Last Modified in Climate ADAPT Dec 23 2020

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