Extreme drought holding steady into 2019

Edition 28 December, by Megan Janicke

Summer days are already fading into distant memory, but the impact of those record-setting hot and dry months in the Netherlands and neighbouring countries will be felt well into next year. Water managers in the Netherlands are reporting a crippling groundwater shortage. Without a prolonged period of ‘typical Dutch rain’, the deficit will continue. “We need about 200 full days of precipitation to fill the shortage, which is more than six months, and that’s a lot, if you look at the figures honestly; we will not reach this amount for the new growing season,” Tanja Klip, chair of Vallei and Veluwe Water board, told NOS.

Farmers face a dry winter

Not only the summer drought can be blamed. Autumn 2018 was the driest in 43 years and the sunniest ever measured. Additionally, the temperature is now on average 1 degree Celsius higher than normal. According to statistics from Weeronline, a milder and drier winter typically follows such a lovely autumn season. Experts say a winter without significant rainfall will have very serious consequences for agriculture. “The rain that falls in the winter months does not evaporate because of the cold. But no matter how wet, this winter the shortages will probably not be supplemented in Limburg, Brabant, Gelderland and Drenthe,” said Jac Peerboom, chair of the Dutch Hydrological Instrumentarium (NHI), in an interview with Trouw.

Although dry summers occur often, the water supply is usually replenished during the rainy autumn and winter months. This benefits farmers during the spring planting. However, if the water shortage continues, farmers will have to water their crops early in the season. That will be very costly. According to Peerboom, this is not only a problem for crop producers. “If more water is used, water suppliers may be prohibited from issuing water for spraying. Then you also have problems in the greenhouses.’’ Consumers hit with higher costs While the financial outlook for crop producers is bleak, consumers will also suffer the consequences of the drought. ‘Prices of products will rise due to scarcity or rising transport costs,” said Gea Bakker, economic expert for Rabobank. “Ships can sail less frequently. The extra costs for replacement transport will be passed on to the consumer, broker or wholesaler.’’

Low water levels on the Rhine in Germany have already discouraged traders from sending cargoes to Rotterdam. This has diminished the supply of diesel in Europe. Even oil giants such as Shell and BP are having difficulties supplying their service stations. If the problems persist, higher fuel prices will be inevitable. “We depend on what happens on the Rhine and Maas,” explained Peerboom. “Water for our rivers comes from Germany and Switzerland. If there is little rain, we feel that. With less water, fewer heavy ships can be loaded.” The prices of some agricultural goods are expected to rise due to lower than average crop yields in 2018. This includes onions: production was 42% lower production than in an average year. Potatoes have also had a dismal year, but because of fixed price agreements consumers will pay almost the same amount for the time being. However, the price of potato-related products – such as french fries – might soon rise. Property at risk

Engineer Alex Hekman is warning homeowners in Noordoostpolder, Urk, Steenwijkerland, Zwartewaterland and Kampen that drought conditions may endanger their homes as a result of subsidence. This occurs when the ground under the house collapses, or sinks, taking some of the building’s foundations with it. This puts strain on the structure and causes cracks to appear. Hekman said subsidence remains a high risk for many homes: “This risk occurs this year even in houses that are not founded on poles, but are directly on clay or peat soils. You rarely see that.” These types of soils are found in the Noordoostpolder and the northern part of Overijssel. For homeowners in these areas, Hekman recommends checking if it is possible to insure the home against subsidence and cracks. He also suggests trying to keep the ground in the garden as moist as possible. “Cut off the drainpipe and make sure the water runs into the garden. You could also remove stone tiles from the garden, so that more water goes into the ground instead of flowing into the sewer.’’