Keynote: Ralph Schielen

Senior Advisor at Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, Delft University of Technology

I studied Mathematics at Utrecht University in the Netherlands and got my PhD in applied mathematics at that same university in 1995. The subject was to describe the temporal and spatial evolution of alternating bars in rivers. After that, I started working at Rijkswaterstaat, the executive agency of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management in the Netherlands and broadened my scope to hydraulics, morphology and ecology.
I’m now a senior advisor at Rijkswaterstaat for over 20 years. My expertise is on river management in general, and more in particular in hydraulics and morphology of lowland rivers. A field of interest is the application of Nature Based Solutions for flood protection and in that respect I have participated in European wide programmes that share experiences on the application of NBS.
I’ve been working on the Room for the River programme (a 2.3. billion euro flood protection programme, mainly dealing with NBS) in the Netherlands as scientific advisor for hydraulics and morphology. After that, I contributed to the Deltaprogramme, which aims at keeping the Netherlands a safe and liveable country in times of climate change for the next 30 years by studying additional measures in the coastal and riverine area. I was co-lead of a scientific research programme called RiverCare in which 21 PhD and postdoc students at various Dutch universities studied the ecological, societal and morphological consequences of Room for the River. The successor of that program is Rivers2Morrow, a research programme funded by Rijkswaterstaat and the Ministry of Infratsructure and Water Management with 8 PhD’s position. Goal is to understand and predict the long term behaviour (up to 2100 and beyond) of lowland rivers under climate change (i.e. sea level rise and increased discharge) with a focus on sediment dynamics.
I have an affiliation at Delft University of Technology as senior researcher. In that role I supervise bachelor, master and PhD-students and teach river basin management.
I participated in several international missions on water management issues in a.o. USA (Los Angeles, St. Louis), Ethiopia (Awash basin), Myanmar (Nyaungdone) and Canada (Calgary).

In the Room for the River programme, I was the senior advisor on the morphological and hydraulic effects of the individual measures, as well as the combined set of measures. This involved discussions with consultants and stakeholders about the effects, and about possible redesign of the measures. It also involved taking into account long term changes with respect to climate change in order to assess the resilience and robustness of the project. I was involved in the communication sessions with the general public and stakeholders to express the necessity as well as the impact of the programme. Since now all measures have been completed, primary goal is to monitor carefully the consequences of the measures and study whether these are as predicted. If needed, adaptations are to be proposed. This will happen in the framework of the Deltaprogramme, which is about creating a resilient and climate proof setting for the Dutch rivers.

Making Room for Rivers: Experiences from The Netherlands

Thurs 9:00 am

The near-flood events of 1993 and 1995 with second highest discharge of Rhine and Meuse river ever recorded were a wake-up call for the Netherlands. The system of embankments did not fail, but it was clear that flood levels had to be reduced. In response to the high discharges, the Room for the River programme was initiated. In this lecture, I will discuss the context, the procedure, the measures and the societal aspects of Room for the River. The programme was finalised in 2017, and now the Netherlands are facing a next challenge: is our river system robust enough to deal with climate change (increased discharges and sea level rise). Furthermore, it is becoming increasingly clear that the highly engineered Rhine river is still responding to the measures from the past (narrowing and straightening). The result is river bed degradation and coarsening of the bed surface texture, and I will discuss the consequences of Room for the River for operations and maintenance in relation to the ongoing degradation, coarsening and climate change. The river system is clearly not stable, and it is important to know the consequences of interventions. Many of these interventions can be considered as so called Nature Based Solutions (NBS), and these measures fit well in the European Green Deal programme that aims to restore European rivers. NBS have many co-benefits with respect to grey solutions, but it is still a challenge to quantify that in an objective way. I will briefly discuss a framework that assesses NBS and that can be used to quantify the co-benefits of Room for the River.