Maas river too vulnerable as source of drinking water: report

Maas River, Rotterdam the Maas River in Rotterdam (Grandmaster/Wikimedia)

River water companies situated around the Maas, united in RIWA-Maas, are very concerned about a looming shortage of drinking water from the Maas. During periods of drought, the river is too vulnerable to function as drinking water supply. "It's only a matter of time until insufficient water comes out of the tap", Wim Drossaert, chairman of RIWA Maas and director of Zuid-Holland drinking water company Dunea, said to newspaper Trouw.

The Maas is the source of tap water for nearly 4 million Dutch people, farmers and businesses, as well as 3 million Belgians. The number of customers and their water demand is increasing, while drought is reducing the amount of water flowing through the Maas. 

"The drought is disturbing", Maarten van der Ploeg, director of RIWA-Maas, said to Trouw. "Not only people, but also industry and farmers shout for water in the summer. At that moment our system already starts cracking. If there is an incident, such as an unknown contamination, drinking water companies will run into problems." 

Dunea relies on the Maas for making drinking water. Last year the company extracted 75.5 million cubic meters of water from the river. The groundwater on the coast is brackish and therefore unsuitable for drinking water. Alternative drinking water extraction, such as through desalination or reuse, is not feasible or affordable on that scale. And the construction of larger water buffers is a politically sensitive topic, according to Drossaert.

RIWA-Maas is calling for immediate intervention, because drought measures taken in countries upstream are increasing their problems. In France, for example, old locks are being replaced with new ones on a large scale, and the water supply from the Roer - a tributary in Germany that is important for the Netherlands - is under pressure. The water companies therefore call for cross-border consultation on the Maas, and on water availability and distribution. There are currently hardly any international agreements on this front. 

"The question is what remains for us if everyone tinkers on the Maas a bit", Drossaert said to the newspaper. "The drainage of water decreases and that, for example, ensures that seawater sometimes flows inland harder and causes salinization. That makes this situation dangerous."